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TheRejectAmidHair

My three favourite novelists

My three favourite novelists are:

Charles Dickens, because I find myself delighting in that unique, idiosyncratic, vividly imagined fictional world he has created;

Leo Tolstoy, because I find it enriching to share in his magnificent, all-encompassing vision of human life;

Fyodor Dostoyevsky, because he frequently has me scratching my head in sheer puzzlement, or shaking my head thinking "this'll never do", but who consistently engages me, thrills me, and even infuriates me; because he presents a challenge I feel worth trying to rise to; and because I enjoy a good fight: I have had lots of heated arguments and fights with old Fyodor, and have emerged from them bloodied, but invigorated.
chris-l

Total knee-jerk response. John Updike, Elizabeth Taylor, Jane Austen. Just because they are authors who I return to again and again and who never cease to bring joy and amazement into my life. That is not to denigrate Himadri's choices: any one of those might feature in my list on a different day, when I was in a different mood. I would hate to be reduced to reading only three authors, so thank goodness this list does not commit us to any such limitation!
TheRejectAmidHair

I think that, at long last, I'm mature enough now to tackle Austen. I'm planning an Austen marathon next year - all the novels in order of composition. And if I could ask you to name a novel by Elizabeth Taylor you think suitable for someone who has not yet read her works, I'll read it in the New Year.
Ann

TheRejectAmidHair wrote:
I think that, at long last, I'm mature enough now to tackle Austen. I'm planning an Austen marathon next year - all the novels in order of composition. And if I could ask you to name a novel by Elizabeth Taylor you think suitable for someone who has not yet read her works, I'll read it in the New Year.


I'm intrigued by the idea, Himadri, that one has to be a mature reader to tackle Austen. I've always felt one has to be able to appreciate her nuances and her sarcastic sense of humour. The plot is very little to do with the greatness of her writing; it is her moral comedy which I love.

I have read a few by Elizabeth Taylor but the one that I can remember most about, and still has the effect of making me shudder with horror, is Mrs Palfry at the Claremont. It is a book full of observational humour but with a desperate sadness underneath. I'm not sure if I could ever bring myself to read it again although I remember it so clearly.
chris-l

TheRejectAmidHair wrote:
I think that, at long last, I'm mature enough now to tackle Austen. I'm planning an Austen marathon next year - all the novels in order of composition. And if I could ask you to name a novel by Elizabeth Taylor you think suitable for someone who has not yet read her works, I'll read it in the New Year.

You do rather put me on the spot there! I haven't yet read all of ET's novels, but I have been very impressed by two that I read for the first time this year: 'A View of the Harbour' and 'The Soul of Kindness'. I also love her first novel 'At Mrs Lippincott's'.  If I had to come up with a single recommendation, though, I think it would have to be her short stories: these were published in a collected edition earlier this year (to mark the centenary of her birth) and really capture the essence of her work.

It only occurred to me after I posted my first response, but the two writers to whom Elizabeth Taylor is most frequently compared are Jane Austen and John Updike. In fact there was a programme on Radio 4 (I think it was the James Naughtie one) which discussed the proposition that she formed the link between the other two. So I suppose I can at least claim that my choices show a degree of consistency - or are totally predictable, if you prefer!
TheRejectAmidHair

That's good enough for me: next time I'm book-shopping, I'll pick up her Collected Short Stories, and The Soul of Kindness. Thanks!
TheRejectAmidHair

Ann wrote:
.
I'm intrigued by the idea, Himadri, that one has to be a mature reader to tackle Austen. I've always felt one has to be able to appreciate her nuances and her sarcastic sense of humour.


Hello Ann, I think any literature of any value at all requires a certain maturity from the reader. Depending on the individual reader's temperament, there are certain types of literature they will respond to even at an early age (although the nature of the response may well deepen with age); some they may never respond to at all; and others they may respond to only they have had sufficient experience both with literature and with life.

When, as a teenager, I was thrilling to the Russians (whom I still thrill to: see above) I regarded Austen as essentially "chick-lit" - even though the awful term didn't exist in those days. I read Pride & Pejudice expecting not to like it because it was "chick-lit", and, unsurprisingly, what I got back out of it was as little as what I'd put in. Later, I thought of Austen as a satirist - as someone who, with exquisite comic touch, showed up human foibles and put them down. This did not strike me - and still does not strike me - as sufficient raw material for fine literature. My last reading yielded little. But it did plant a few seeds in my mind, and those seeds have since been growing. And it was growing into something that had nothing to do with "chick-lit" romance, nor yet with social satire. Not that her novels did not contain these elements: rather, I had a sense of there being something more.

The turning point came recently when an Austenite friend of mine referred to Emma as having a "Mozartean perfection". Now, the music of Mozart means much to me, and I have frequently argued against those who have complained that Mozart lacked passion: there is, I countered, tremendous passion beneath that formal and decorous surface - but one had to look for it. So, if the analogy between Mozart and Austen holds good, there should be much passion and depth of feeling in Austen also, and that I missed it all because I was not looking hard enough beyond my limited expectations. And certain things that I retain in my mind from Mansfield Park, Emma, Persuasion, seemed to confirm this. So, I thought, the time had come to revisit these works. Maybe, at long last, I'll be mature enough to take them in.

As one changes over the years, one's perception changes. An account of what I have liked and disliked at various stages of my life effectively becomes an internal autobiography. Maybe, I'm just entering a new phase. I hope so.
Ann

I liked your example of comparing Austen to Mozart. Did you see those rather good programmes on BBC by Ian Hislop on the Stiff Upper Lip? I think Austen is a good example of that phenomenon - there are things that one doesn't mention and certainly show no emotion about and yet the passion is there under the surface. Ian Hislop said how unmoved he'd been by the whole Olympic jingoistic fest but that he did find himself with a little bit of patriotic fervour when he saw the Jubilee procession with two elderly people standing in the rain for hours and the singers, probably suffering from hypothermia, but still performing in the the downpour. I dislike outpouring of emotion so an atmosphere of restrained feeling is  appealing to me.

I did get a lot of pleasure from the Olympics, though. Confused
TheRejectAmidHair

I'm afraid I missed the Olympics almost entirely. A good friend of mine had passed away shortly before the Olympics were due to start, and the morning after the opening ceremony, I was speaking at his funeral: the next few weeks, I wasn't really in the right frame of mind to watch anything.

But back to Austen: for a long time, I had thought her merely decorous, and lacking in passion. I think I was disastrously wrong. If one is to depict humanity seriously, one has, I think, to delve deeply into their feelings. I am sure Austen does this, but I had missed it. This is why I think that this time, I'll be "mature" enough to understand this.

I tend to find that the works I love best - from Shakespeare's Othello to Tolstoy's Anna Karenina, from Mozart's G minor symphony to Verdi's Requiem - are all works of great depth of feeling, and, indeed, of passion. There are many different and valid ways of depicting passion, of course. Sometimes, a vast passion can reside behind a stiff upper lip; equally, sometimes, all that lies behind a stiff upper lip is mere emotional desiccation.

And speaking of "mature" - the targeted adverts on my Facebook page keep recommending websites for "mature dating". Cheeky buggers! Now, if they'd offered me websites where I could buy mature cheddar...

But I digress. Anyone else like to tell us their three favourite novelists, and why?
Marita

To find the answer to this I had to think whose novels I would miss most if I lost all my books. Two came to mind immediately and both have been mentioned before.

Charles Dickens: there is one thing my Charleston has taught me. I love his writing. I kept expecting to get fed up with reading the same author but I never did. I put Dickens on hold because I thought I ought to but I could have started ‘David Copperfield’, next book of the Charleston, without thinking ‘God! Not another Dickens novel.’

Jane Austen: I like her sharp wit and her view of the society she lived in. and of course the ‘tremendous passion beneath that formal and decorous surface’ that I failed to communicate to Himadri in the discussion we had on his blog about Mansfield Park.

Finding a third novelist is more problematic but today I go for
Henry James: I’ve not read much of his work (The Golden Bowl, Portrait of a Lady, The Aspern Papers) but enjoyed them very much. Despite the fact that he puts his characters under a microscope, scrutinising their behaviour, portraying them in the minutest detail, he still asks a lot of work from his readers. His novels are puzzles without clues, or perhaps with too many, confusing clues. I love his writing and The Golden Bowl is the only book I read and immediately re-read without a break.


TheRejectAmidHair

Marita wrote:
Jane Austen: I like her sharp wit and her view of the society she lived in. and of course the ‘tremendous passion beneath that formal and decorous surface’ that I failed to communicate to Himadri in the discussion we had on his blog about Mansfield Park.


Not at all. That particular exchange was instrumental in convincing me that I needed to revisit & to re-assess Austen.

Marita wrote:
Finding a third novelist is more problematic but today I go for
Henry James: I’ve not read much of his work (The Golden Bowl, Portrait of a Lady, The Aspern Papers) but enjoyed them very much. Despite the fact that he puts his characters under a microscope, scrutinising their behaviour, portraying them in the minutest detail, he still asks a lot of work from his readers. His novels are puzzles without clues, or perhaps with too many, confusing clues. I love his writing and The Golden Bowl is the only book I read and immediately re-read without a break.


Wow! That's impressive!
Incidentally, in one of his columns, Howard Jacobson picked as his three favourite novelists Auste, Dickens & James, so you're in good company!
Caro

This will be rather off the top of my head, because I am off for a week tomorrow (babysitting duties with grandson - hope I put the nappy on the right way round this time!).  

My problem is that I haven't read more than one or two books of a lot of writers, or they are well-known for just one flash of brilliance (Catch 22, To Kill a Mockingbird, Vanity Fair).  I have wondered about Dickens, since recently I have read and enjoyed a couple of his, but it wasn't undiluted enjoyment or even total admiration.  And some of the writers I have read quite a number of books of are New Zealanders, who don't mean much to people here.  I also haven't re-read many novels, which not only brings out more of them, but also means they are clearly in your memory.

I have loved over the years the books of Georgette Heyer, so she will be one. She is witty and easy to read as well as having a strong handle on the historical elements of her period and her characters are varied in their romantic genre.  And though I haven't read him this year Anthony Trollope's books really appeal to me.  I love his warmth which is nevertheless combined with a sort of sharp eye and detachment.  I also like the early writers' connection with their readers, often talking straight to them, or appearing to do so.  It's never totally certain whether it is the author or a hidden narrator who is discussing the characters and writing with you.  

Three isn't enough, is it?  I thought that since I read such a lot of crime writing that I might make Minette Walters one of them: she doesn't write a series but takes a different story and approach each time, and writes with an eye to the characters' psychological nuances as well as the plot.   But then there is Kazuo Ishiguro: I might be rather over-influenced by The Remains of the Day which I thought was such a wonderful and sad portrayal of hidden feelings and pent-up passions.  But I have liked others of his too.  

So that's turned out to be four, and might well a different four another day.
TheRejectAmidHair

Thanks for that, Caro. It's interesting that you say about Dickens that your reaction wasn't "undiluted enjoyment or even total admiration". I have been thinking precisely on this matter for some now, and it seems to me that neither, perhaps, is required for one to value an author. Terms such as "like" or "dislike" seem almost insipid and irrelevant here. Do I, for instance, like Dostoyevsky? On a certain level, I guess I must, since I think about his works frequently and often find myself returning to them. On other levels, there are elements in his novels I consider weak, or take issue with; and I find him troublesome, disputatious, and, yes, disturbing - he certainly disturbs the equanimity of my thought. I don't know that I can summarise any of this by simply saying that I "like" or "dislike" his works. Indeed, I'm quite at a loss to know how even to begin to describe my reaction to his novels.

Have a great time next week with your grandson!
chris-l

Marita, I am full of admiration! Not only have you read 'The Golden Bowl', but you have read it twice. I have to confess, I have never managed to get beyond the first few pages. I don't dislike Henry James, although he would only figure on a list of personal favourites if it were a very long list, and I have read many of his novels, but that particular one has always defeated me.

Perhaps I should try again. Yes! I will try again. Soon(ish)!
Ann

Well I shall try

Georgette Heyer for many of the reasons Caro gave. I love her humour and her practicality. She never takes the view that if one is is love everything else goes out of the window - standards, morals and little things like that! She also makes me feel that one should get over heavy ground as lightly as possible (which is nearly a quote but I can't remember which book) so serious issues are treated with a great deal of humour.

Terry Pratchett who I think is a modern day Jonathan Swift. He shows us ourselves by making a fantasy landscape and deals with very serious issues using that vehicle.

The last one is going to Hilary Mantel though I nearly wrote Barbara Pym who I admire greatly. However the Cromwell books are just so superb I have put Mantel though I don't like all of her books. Mantel has an amazing way of getting right into the here and now of her subjects so that one is completely inside the head of the person she is writing about. Her characters also change and one accompanies them on that change, altering one's view of them on the way
TheRejectAmidHair

Just to go off on a bit of a tangent (what are threads for if you can't go off at tangets?) I just looked up on the net that quote from Howard Jacobson I had referred to earlier, about Austen, Dickens and James being his favourite novelists. This is what he had said:

Quote:
And if there's one argument we don't need advancing right now it's that literature and pleasure are opposites. "Yes but what do you read for fun?" I am sometimes asked when I say my favourite novelists are Jane Austen, Charles Dickens and Henry James. "Jane Austen, Charles Dickens and Henry James," I reply. What could be more fun than to read a novelist the intelligence and vitality of whose sentences make you swoon with pleasure?


It comes from this article:

http://www.independent.co.uk/voic...e-need-to-talk-about-2374295.html
KlaraZ

This is really rather a difficult question, Himadri! Without any hesitation at all, I'd definitely choose Dickens as one of the three; I can and do re-read Dickens whatever mood I'm in, and I feel as though I've known his work and his characters all my life---I think I must have been no more than 4 or 5 when my mother started showing me the illustrations in 'Pickwick Papers' and telling me the stories behind them.

But after choosing Dickens, there are so many other writers I love, and I'm hard pressed to choose two at the expense of all the others. If, for example, I chose Thomas Hardy and George Eliot, where would that leave Jane Austen and the Brontes?  (And then I'd have to ask myself 'which Bronte'?) And what about all the modern novelists I like, and re-read a lot, Elizabeth Taylor, Mervyn Peake and Iris Murdoch?  And then there's Zola....

And (just to add to the perplexity) there are at least two writers whose work I love when dramatised, but who (heretically enough) I find far less enjoyable to read, i.e Anthony Trollope and Henry James.
I shall have to think harder on this one...
chris-l

You are quite right, Klara, about the problems attached to this sort of choice: as soon as you mentioned George Eliot, I thought 'Yes, I want her in there', but then, who will I leave out. And although I read Dickens regularly and with great joy, yet I cannot bring myself to put him in my top three 'favourites'. I would never deny his greatness and he would possibly make it into my top five and undoubtedly into my top ten, yet there is something that makes me hold back. I always have to tell myself that I should read Dickens, rather than rushing towards him as a special treat, yet, when I do read him (and I always read at least one Dickens novel every year), I am totally bowled over by the experience. I am not sure that any rational argument could, in this case make me promote Dickens, because I think my reasons for omitting him must be somewhat irrational. I do not even understand them myself, so any sort of explanation is beyond me. Nevertheless, I can fully understand why he figures in so many top threes!
TheRejectAmidHair

Yes, I know ... it's impossible to create definitive lists, so let's stop this silly game now! I really just started this thread on a whim, as a way of highlighting the very curious way I feel about Dostoyevsky. When considering this writer, such concepts as "like" or "dislike"  seem gloriously irrelevant. His writing maddens me; there is so much in there that's just so wrong; and yet  ... and yet, I wouldn't want to be without his novels. Do I like Dostoyevsky? Do I dislike Dostoyevsky? Does it matter?

This is how I feel now: liking or disliking something has little bearing on whether or not I want to grapple with the work. When I told someone lately that I am planning to read through all the Austen novels next year, I was told that, given I had not enjoyed her novels in the past, that I was "a sucker for punishment". I don't feel this way. For me, it's a challenge, and one that's worth rising to.

I know I am expressing myself badly, but I don't really know how else to express it.
Green Jay

[quote="Ann:31816I'm intrigued by the idea, Himadri, that one has to be a mature reader to tackle Austen. I've always felt one has to be able to appreciate her nuances and her sarcastic sense of humour. The plot is very little to do with the greatness of her writing; it is her moral comedy which I love.

[/quote]

Yes, yes, yes to that comment about Jane Austen. Though I wouldn't say it is a 'sarcastic sense of humour' but acerbic wit.  Austen chides Emma for her sarcasm. Austen is sarcastic at times in her private letters, where she can let rip. Moral comedy, social comedy, spot-on social observation in a wide sense. I root for her heroines, but they all need educating and Austen takes them through that self-education, fortunately not handing it all over to some judicial chap, not even Mr Knightly, I would argue!  So she is my top favourite.

I admire Updike and Elizabeth Taylor, and I'd put them in a top ...er 10? but I'm going to branch out and say Jane Gardam, definitely, and then probably Alice Munro. I would say these two consistently satisfy and stretch me. Other favourite writers give highs, but also some lows. But these are just my choices this week!

I have read almost everything all three have written - though not maybe the latest 2 or 3 collections by Munro, only because I haven't had time to catch up. She ploughs her own furrow, with long short stories that often almost have the content of novels but aren't novels, yet breaking the short story rules. Sometimes she returns to the same characters, and I always have the feeling that her characters have a life outside and long after the stories they appear in.  She writes apparently about Canada and rural Canadians, very ordinary people, often in the mid 20th century; but her perceptions are not anything like as limited as this sounds, and they grow on you slowly, to show you how very wise and thoughtful a writer she is about the human condition. And she writes it all with a low-key beauty.

Gardam spreads her net wider but is similarly interested in the kindness and pain and oddness of ordinary humans, though hers are more quirky in a very English way. She is good on the colonial legacy (for the Brits involved at least), and can conjure a landscape in such a way that I can still see the pictures that formed in my mind for a number of her books as I type this. (Betty digging holes for her tulip bulbs in her garden amidst the rolling Dorset hills, the pearls sliding off her neck and into a hole. The sea-mist-shrouded house in Crusoe's Daughter. Bizarre yet so familiar seaside towns. The wealthy semi-rural suburbs.) She can write an amazing picture of a person or a place in just a phrase. Her books supposedly for children are just as satisfying as those for adults, and she has a good line in the uncanny,  too.

Oh, but what about Barbara Kingsolver?? I think I've enjoyed and been moved and impressed by all the books of hers I've read. Sympathetic to her values, too, political and ecological  - so clever to put these across in  compelling & engaging fiction, not just as polemic.
TheRejectAmidHair

Green Jay wrote:
Ann wrote:
I'm intrigued by the idea, Himadri, that one has to be a mature reader to tackle Austen. I've always felt one has to be able to appreciate her nuances and her sarcastic sense of humour. The plot is very little to do with the greatness of her writing; it is her moral comedy which I love.



Yes, yes, yes to that comment about Jane Austen. Though I wouldn't say it is a 'sarcastic sense of humour' but acerbic wit.  Austen chides Emma for her sarcasm. Austen is sarcastic at times in her private letters, where she can let rip. Moral comedy, social comedy, spot-on social observation in a wide sense. I root for her heroines, but they all need educating and Austen takes them through that self-education, fortunately not handing it all over to some judicial chap, not even Mr Knightly, I would argue!  So she is my top favourite.


Are we saying here that Austen is a major writer principally thanks to her social satire? I find this difficult to accept. For society, any society, always has flaws, and always will have: merely to draw attention to these flaws, no matter how wittily or elegantly, does not in itself seem to me indicative any literary greatness. Similarly with satire of individuals: we all have flaws as individuals, and it's no great trick to point them out, and poke fun at them. For a novelist to be considered in the top rank - which is how Austen is regarded - we surely need far, far more than merely this.

The last time I read Austen, all I really saw was the satire. And I felt this wasn't enough. It was fine as far as it went, but merely pointing out human flaws, and laughing at them, does not in itself contitute literary greatness. Indeed, I found myself put off by what I felt was her censoriousness, and lack of tolerance for human foibles. If Austen is to be considered a major novelist - and there is really no room for doubt on that score - then there must surely be a much deeper vision of human life than merely this.
KlaraZ

Personally, I think this is a brilliant game, not least because it's made me reflect on how different my choices might have been had I been asked the same question forty years ago. Then, I might have mentioned Jack Kerouac and Herman Hesse, or may be John Cowper Powys, writers who belonged to my hippie/mystic phase, somethhing I've moved on from long ago.

But Dickens has always been there for me.
chris-l

I sometimes have the impression that social satire is the defence that Austen supporters  (among whom I obviously count myself) present against those who see her as merely a writer of sloppy romances. As is usually the case with these polarised arguments, each side has a small element of truth on its side.

One of the attractions of Austen for me is the way she tries to arrive at a real system of values that transcends birth and material wealth. Of course, this is never put to the ultimate test of a character from a truly humble background, but still, I think we can draw our own conclusions. So, Fanny, from an impoverished and chaotic background, becomes the moral arbiter of events and people at the grand Mansfield Park. In 'Pride and Prejudice', we are constantly made aware of the difficult choices that have to be made in life, often, but not exclusively, by young women. And again in that novel, the people with the surest grasp on real values are the aunt and uncle in the much despised 'trade', the realisation of which fact is a major factor in the coming to wisdom of Mr Darcy. 'Persuasion', too, looks very much at what is more important: the superficial, immediate attraction, or the solid, enduring attachment based upon real worth.

I find a good deal of matter for serious consideration in Austen's novels. How do we relate to other people? What do we owe
ourselves? What are the real values that under lie accepted ideas of the right way to live.

Austen is always a realist: she never proposes the idea of giving it all up for love. What she does do is present us with very engaging scenarios of the contrasting options that may be on offer. The debate as to which may be the least bad option is one that certainly keeps both my intellect and my emotions fully involved with her narrative.

I realise that that may not be enough for everyone, but it is more than enough for me.
MikeAlx

I have to say I have the same problem with Austen's humour as Himadri seems too - however (and I suspect unlike Himadri), I have a similar problem with much of the humour in Dickens!

It seems to me very easy for an author to set up a character for ridicule, and I have a worrying suspicion that sometimes writers do this with a real person in mind, exaggerating them on the page for comic effect and of course not allowing them to answer back. For both Dickens and Austen the target is usually a character portrayed as overly pompous or pretentious, and the pricking of this pretension for easy laughs is to my mind a rather crude sort of humour.

It's not so much that I object to authors presenting human foibles; it's more that they include too few of the foibles of their heroes/heroines. Indeed, it sometimes feels like you're getting the story via a political spin doctor, and you know you're only getting half the picture. I also worry that these authors see their heroes/heroines as embodiments of their own perceived virtues.

It is of course going beyond the rules of objective literary criticism to start projecting speculative psychological theories onto writers, but I cannot help this being my instinctive, emotional response to this kind of humour. To me it's like watching someone being bullied - my instinct is to side with the victim, whatever their shortcomings!
Green Jay

Thank you, Chris, for putting that far better than I could have. I concur entirely. But Himadri, we are naming our 3 favourite authors here, not the 3 Greatest Authors, so I could have named Enid Blyton, Dan Brown and B. Cartland and not really have had to defend myself, just said they are my personal faves  Smile Not that they are - I haven't even read the last two, just trying to wind you up.  E Blyton - lashings of jolly fun; D B - he can't half write a page-turner; B C - her taste in frocks is beautifully reflected in her prose and who says a woman of advanced years shouldn't glue her lashes together with boot blacking, it was just a respectful homage to Charles Dickens' early life???

Seriously tho', Himadri, if you are going to read Jane Austen, I would suggest as a mature reader you don't start with P & P but first read Emma or Persuasion, and then look back at her earlier work in the light  of those novels. Otherwise you ought to  start with her juvenilia, Lady Susan etc, which is jolly fun and points the way. She didn't set out to be a great novelist, just to entertain her family and circle, which is a modest aim. I'm sure she'd find her  literary legacy most odd, if she could see it, and possibly amusing?

As Ann says, I find her a realist. It isn't pure social satire, which I can find quite tiresome. Purely satirical writers seem to me to not really care for any of their creations, and make their characters targets,  larger than life, not real human beings. Yet in Austen someone like Miss Bates or Mrs Elton, Anne Eliot's father or Emma's father, while being full of risible and irritating qualities, are convincing, to me at any rate. I suppose her thinnest satircial targets are the aristocracy (Lady de Burgh, the ones that the Eliots kowtow to - can't remember who) - rich, thick, and full of themselves - and seen as so 'superior' to those with more brains, culture, and moral worth - is that so far from the truth?!? She does satirise the unquestioning reverence people like Anne Eliot's father and Mr Collins accord to them and which they accept as their due. I really like this aspect of Austen, her engagement with the world of class and money - which always fascinates me and which can be glossed over in more "comfortable" fiction of all eras. George Eliot and the Brontes also write about women in difficult economic situations but not in the same way, somehow. Austen does not engage with truly low class people, but she shows how people can fall down the economic & social ladder and how precarious life is, particularly for women and girls - Fanny Price's mother, Anne Eliot's schoolfriend Mrs Smith, and most obviously Mrs Dashwood and her girls in Sense & Sensibility. Here it is another female, the wife of John Dashwood, who works on her husband to whittle away his father's more generous wishes into a downright mean stipend, although she wouldn't have suffered financially had he been kinder. Austen shows how even once quite grand, well-off women were at the whim of male relations, not being able to own money of their own. And even nice men feel compelled to "follow the money" by chasing the bonnet with the biggest dowry if they themselves aren't the heir, because the spectre of marrying for (penniless) love and condemning their wife and offspring to poverty is just too much either for them, or their family, to contemplate.   I think the importance and sheer desperation of this aspect e.g Mrs Bennet trying to ensure her daughters' futures, often gets lost in the dramatisations. After all, we'd be quite thrilled to live in the lovely cottage in Ang Lee's film of Sense & Sensibility. And the Austen house at Chawton would do me nicely, thank you. But then bankers live in done-up, knocked through picturesque labourer's cottage these days, so without a bit of historical perspective it's rather hard to see what all the fuss was about !

I'll get me coat now....
TheRejectAmidHair

Goodness! - this discussion has moved on a bit!

Firstly, Green Jay: I know this is just a game, and that we are choosing our three favourites, and not necessarily the three best (whatever that means!). And of course no-one needs to defend their choices (although your "defence" of Barbara Cartland does make me wish you'd chosen her)! But the point of any literary game - for me, at any rate! - is to explore the issues thrown up by it. And here, we seem to have a whole lot of issues to get our teeth into - just the sort of thing I've been missing all these years! Smile

I do agree with Mike that simply setting up characters to take the piss out of is an easy game to play, and not frankly a very attractive game from an onlooker's viewpoint. But this is by no means the principal plank of Dickens' art: if it had been, Dickens would at best been but a mediocre author. And I suspect, for much the same reason, that it's not the principal plank in Austen's art either. Any major writer has to think seriously about life, and about the often very complex moral issues involved in living; and to reduce all this complexity merely to setting up people to take the piss out of, or pointing out social absurdities that are surely obvious to all, is not indicative of anything I recognize as literary quality. Dickens' exploration of human moral issues is very complex and intricate - as, indeed, any serious examination of such issues must be: I suspect Austen's is as well. In short, serious authors do not present reductive views of humanity, and we must take care not to reduce their creations in our interpretations.

Neither am I particularly interested in what literature reveals about the social and economic issues of their time. Not that this sort of thing isn't of interest: it certainly is. But the interest belongs more to the field of social and economic history rather than to that of literature. What serious fiction explores is not so much social and economic conditions, but the psychological and moral states of people who live in those conditions. Once again, I don't think Austen would be lacking on this front. Dickens certainly wasn't.

Novelists of the foremost rank must, I think, probe even beyond these things. What writers probe into depends on the areas of humanity most interest them, and one can't make general rules on this matter. But in the most basic terms, literature we term "great" must look beyond merely social satire, or social observation. The greatest of writers probe much further: they probe into the very nature of the human soul itself - our vaguest sensations and intimations, our deepest feelings and thoughts, our most intense fears and desires, our transcendent joys and sorrows, our inner lives, our moral lives. Once I have acquainted myself with Austen's work, I suspect I'll find that this is precisely what she does.

Green Jay - I am planning reading the six novels in order of composition, starting with Northanger Abbey, and ending with Persuasion. What has always fascinated me about Austen - even as I have found myself frustrated by my own lack of understanding - is the love her writings inspire in so many. I have long felt that there is something really wonderful out there, and that, through some feature of my own personality, I am missing out on it. Well, this time, I think I am ready for it; and the enthusiasm for Austen shown by so many on this board has played no small part in my continued perseverence.
Mikeharvey

If asked to name my three favourite novelists I would have to say Dickens and Hardy as one and two - I know that's a bit obvious - but as for the third...? If we were naming our favourite writers of fiction I would have to choose Chekhov for his marvellous short stories.
I love Dickens because he creates teeming worlds that I can get lost and wander in and which are endlessly invigorating.  Life in all its amazing multifariousness.  I love Hardy because he creates a particular, localised world that some days - only some - reflects a pessimistic view of life that I sometimes in my deepest heart share.  Reading about other people's tragic lives puts my own everyday traumas into sensible perspective. I think it's called catharsis.
I've been thinking about possible candidates for third favourite, but there isn't an obvious choice.  All right - it'll have to be E. Nesbit to whose FIVE CHILDREN AND IT, THE PHOENIX AND THE CARPET, THE WOULD-BE-GOODS (and the other Bastable books),  THE STORY OF THE AMULET, THE ENCHANTED CASTLE I've returned to over and over again through my reading life.   Although Edwardian in setting, Nesbit's children are some of the most believeable in literature. Nesbit's plots are wonderfully inventive.  And her quiet humour is delicious.
Ann

How lovely to see you saying such nice things about E Nesbit. I loved her books as a child and have quite often reread them since growing up. I recently had another go at Wet Magic of which I had such happy memories
Ann

TheRejectAmidHair wrote:
Goodness! - this discussion has moved on a bit!





Novelists of the foremost rank must, I think, probe even beyond these things. What writers probe into depends on the areas of humanity most interest them, and one can't make general rules on this matter. But in the most basic terms, literature we term "great" must look beyond merely social satire, or social observation. The greatest of writers probe much further: they probe into the very nature of the human soul itself - our vaguest sensations and intimations, our deepest feelings and thoughts, our most intense fears and desires, our transcendent joys and sorrows, our inner lives, our moral lives. Once I have acquainted myself with Austen's work, I suspect I'll find that this is precisely what she does.

Green Jay - I am planning reading the six novels in order of composition, starting with Northanger Abbey, and ending with Persuasion. What has always fascinated me about Austen - even as I have found myself frustrated by my own lack of understanding - is the love her writings inspire in so many. I have long felt that there is something really wonderful out there, and that, through some feature of my own personality, I am missing out on it. Well, this time, I think I am ready for it; and the enthusiasm for Austen shown by so many on this board has played no small part in my continued perseverence.


My sister has a lovely couple of books called Speaking of Jane Austen and More Talk of Jane Austen by Sheila Kaye-Smith and GB Sterne which I shall post a link to in case anyone is interested. They are out of print and were published in 1944.
http://www.abebooks.co.uk/servlet...chResults?tn=Speaking+Jane+Austen
Apple

Blimey one day away and this idea has really taken off!! Thanks Himadri for adapting the idea and starting the ball rolling with this thread!  I never thought about fav authors as I was concentrating on actual books thinking of the Big Read concept!  Having said that you don't have your fav books if the author didn't write them in the first place.

Would like to add its nice to see a few people here who I personally haven't seen around for a while! So it seems that it was a good idea to get people posting and lurkers coming out of the shadows!  Wink

Anyway back to the subject, I have read the post on this thread with interest and and learnt how deep things can go, as I like certain authors and for me I can't put a finger on why I lke them there is something about them that certain "X" factor which appeals to me on some level and makes me drawn to them.  But despite this lack of discussion that I can personally offer I will share my fav authors as well.

Charles Dickens is my number one favourite author his stories are so absorbing, they make you feel like you are actually there in those pages and his sense of description is phenomenal.  I like the fact his books have translated well to TV adaptations as some really don't and I have to say I do like to watch his stories as well as read them especially with Bleak House which was a complicated book and it really set the story out clearly for me when I watched it.  His characters can be a bit characatureish but in a good way some are too good to be true and others are so horrible you can almost visualise shrinking away from them.  I like the sense of social concience in his work, at a time when the poor were treated as though their circumstances was their own fault he showed that whilst there were workshy villans there were also a lot of poor people who tried their damnedest to survive.

Number two goes from a prolific author to one who only managed one novel but what a cracking novel one which had a profund effect on me when I read it, and the story has stayed with me always, and is up there as one of my favourite books of all time, I am of course taking about Emily Bronte and Wuthering Heights.  That is a novel which for me has everything which I have previously said and debated tirelessly on this very forum.  For me this book is a masterpiece of English literature the setting of the lonely wild moorland, the complex characters and destructive and ultimately doomed love story, the issues of revenge and the hint of supernatural activity at the end make this book for me one of the greatest works of all time. The thing is with this book though it doesn't translate well to tv because they never get it right, for me I have this strong visualisation of Heathcliff and the people they cast never measure up the story feels like its watered down and never does justice the intensity of the book - the only adaptation which ever came close was the 1970's BBC adaptation which did the best job in capturing the raw savage nature of the love story.

My third fav is a strange choice, compared to the previous two, slightly off the wall but fav for totally different reasons to my first two. My third choice after great deliberation has to be J K Rowling a relatively new inexperienced author compared to the greats who have been discussed on this thread, but this author was the author who got me back to reading. For that alone I will be grateful as had I not got back into reading I would never have found the Beeb forum and I wouldn't be here now (which I'm sure for some people wouldn't be a bad thing!  Wink ) so in that way I feel I almost owe her a lot.  Having said that, the HP series for me was the first books ever to make me literally obsessed about a book, it had a strange effect on me where I was literally unable to put them down until I had finished them I devoured them, I was craving the next installment and couldn't wait until it arrived. There was just something about them which captivated me, when the series ended I felt something akin to grief knowing that that was the end and there was no more.  I am at present reading her first foray into adult literature and it is indeed very different from the HP books but the same sense of characters are there producing that familiar feeling of knowing them and caring or despising them, which for me is one of the most important things about a book - knowing the characters and feeling what they are feeling, Charles Dickens managed this and Emily Bronte did it in spades with the characters in Wuthering Heights and J K Rowling although nowhere near to these two greats also has that gift.

So there we go, not as in depth and profound as the previous contributions to this thread but my contribution all the same, for what its worth.
Evie

TheRejectAmidHair wrote:
Quote:
Novelists of the foremost rank must, I think, probe even beyond these things. What writers probe into depends on the areas of humanity most interest them, and one can't make general rules on this matter. But in the most basic terms, literature we term "great" must look beyond merely social satire, or social observation. The greatest of writers probe much further: they probe into the very nature of the human soul itself - our vaguest sensations and intimations, our deepest feelings and thoughts, our most intense fears and desires, our transcendent joys and sorrows, our inner lives, our moral lives. Once I have acquainted myself with Austen's work, I suspect I'll find that this is precisely what she does.


I do indeed think she goes beyond social satire - the satire and wit are tools rather than an end in themselves.  I would hesitate to say that she probes into fhte very nature of the human soul, though...  She does probe the mores of the day and exposes them to scrutiny - as well as the universal issues of a sense of self, family, love, sex, desire, fear, and the practicalities of life (the need for someone of Elizabeth Bennet's status to be married, for example, was a practical one, not to do with love, as she would be consigned to poverty without it - no chance for women to go to work, other than in scandalous ways, and support themselves in those days), she also brings to light such things as hypocrisy, both social and religious, snobbery, the injustices of the class system, the way an individual can overcome all of these with the right attitude and level of self-esteem.  Much of it may seem old hat when written like that, but of course she did this 200 years ago, when the novel was still in its infancy, and as a woman.

She also did it in prose that still sparkles and springs off the page with its freshness, even after all this time - that is what makes me really love her novels, the writing is so delicious and alive.  The rest is what gives her reputation as a great writer depth and substance.
Mikeharvey

Hello Ann - I haven't read WET MAGIC!! How did I miss that one?  One of my treasured possessions is a first edition copy of E.Nesbit's short story collection OSWALD BASTABLE AND OTHERS.  One of the line illustrations has been most beautifully and carefully coloured in by a previous child (I presume) owner.  I feel quite tender and sentimental about whoever it was.

Have you read Jaqueline Wilson's recent homage to E.Nesbit -FOUR CHILDREN AND IT?  A group of modern children encounter the Psammead and have wishes granted including - delightfully - meeting the five children from the original story!
TheRejectAmidHair

Hello Ann, thanks for that recommendation. I do enjoy reading good literary criticism. The insights of those who have thought deeply about literature always enhance my own views.

Evie - of the Austen novels I read the last time round, the one that particularly keeps coming back to mind is Persuasion. And it seems to me that there is in it considerably more depth of feeing - indeed, considerably more passion - than I had thought when I was reading it. As with the music of Mozart (and Austen's works are often compared to Mozart's) this depth of feeling, and this passion, lie below the very formal and decorous surface, and, as a consequence, are easy to miss. But I'm fairly sure it's there is Persuasion, and this makes me suspect it may be present in her other novels also.

For, speaking personally, depiction of surfaces, if it goes no further, doesn't really interest me - no matter how elegant or how sparkling or even how accurate this depiction may be. I am, of course, speaking personally here, but the literature I value most is that which probes further than that - much further. I suppose that, temperamentally, I am overly serious in this respect, and don't value sparkle and wit and elegance as much as I might: I put this down to my having discovered the Russians at an impressionable age! But yes, I do want literature to probe deeply into the human psyche. Humans are social creatures, but they are also much more.

The reason why I had previously not enjoyed Austen very much is that I didn't really see her probing much further than the surface. Social satire, yes; social observation, yes; ridiculing that which deserves to be ridiculed, wit, sparkle, elegance ... yes to all of that. But it lacked, or seemed to lack, what I most demand from literature, but what I find difficult to articulate except by speaking in such vague terms as "the human soul" or whatever. It lacked, in short, what I get with such unembarrassed directness from the great Russian novelists.

And yet, the emotions of Anne Elliot stay with me. They keep returning to mind, when I hadn't expected them to return. As with the finest whiskies, they have left a powerful aftertaste that I had not expected when I was drinking them. And this makes me suspect that, as with Mozart, Austen does delve into the inner life, and does so seriously, without satire, without cynicism; but that this exploration is not on the surface, as it is with Tolstoy or Dostoyevsky: it is couched in terms elegant and formal and decorous, but they are by no means superficial.

Anyway, I shall find out. If I love Mozart - and I do - and if Austen's art is indeed comparable to Mozart's, then there is no reason why I shouldn't learn to love Austen also. Despite appearances, the music of Mozart is not less passionate or less deeply felt than the music of Mahler.

I started on Northanger Abbey this morning on the train.
Apple

TheRejectAmidHair wrote:
Quote:
I do enjoy reading good literary criticism. The insights of those who have thought deeply about literature always enhance my own views.
Well I'd better shut up then and contribute no further in this discussion!!  Wink
Chibiabos83

I am conscious I haven't posted on this thread - things have been enormously busy recently - but the three names that sprang most readily to my mind were those of Dickens, Austen and Wodehouse. A predictable trio, perhaps, but there we are.
Evie

Himadri - I was thinking as I was writing that the one I expect you to enjoy most is Persuasion.  It is the most mature of the novels, and possibly the most satisfying.  I don't think you will find the depths you find elsewhere, but I think there is depth beneath her sparkling surfaces - there is more than observation and satire, though not the depths of inner exploration of a Tolstoy or Dostoevsky nor the social depths of Dickens or Eliot.  

But I always love craftsmanship, so perhaps I am too dazzled by hers to worry as much as I should about these things!
Evie

My own three favourites are George Eliot, Thomas Hardy and probably Lawrence Durrell...I will say more about why when I've thought about it a bit more!  It's tough to narrow it to three.
TheRejectAmidHair

Evie wrote:
Himadri - I was thinking as I was writing that the one I expect you to enjoy most is Persuasion.  It is the most mature of the novels, and possibly the most satisfying.  I don't think you will find the depths you find elsewhere, but I think there is depth beneath her sparkling surfaces - there is more than observation and satire, though not the depths of inner exploration of a Tolstoy or Dostoevsky nor the social depths of Dickens or Eliot.  

But I always love craftsmanship, so perhaps I am too dazzled by hers to worry as much as I should about these things!


Oh well, there's only one way to find out!
Evie

I always take Virginia Woolf's comment about Middlemarch - that it was the first novel by a woman novelist to be written for grown-ups - to be a sideswipe at Jane Austen.
TheRejectAmidHair

Evie wrote:
I always take Virginia Woolf's comment about Middlemarch - that it was the first novel by a woman novelist to be written for grown-ups - to be a sideswipe at Jane Austen.


That's a bit hard on Ann Radcliffe!  Very Happy

It's a swipe at the Brontës as well, though I know you don't care for them.

Austen has had a great many distinguished admirers as well, of course. Walter Scott, the most famous novelist of the time, admired Austen tremendously, despite having very different aesthetic values. Subsequent admirers have included Tennyson, Henry James, and the Shakespearean scholar A. C. Bradley.

I find myself a bit puzzled by George Eliot, to be honest. There's no doubting the stature of Middlemarch, but nothing else I have read by her is anywhere near that standard - not even The Mill on the Floss. Daniel Deronda is very much a novel of two halves: the strand involving Gwendolen Harleth was superb, clearly foreshadowing Henry James' Portrait of a Lady; but the other strand, involving Daniel, I found unconvincing. This is one novel that really could do with a surgical operation.

The George Eliot works I have yet to read are Scenes from Clerical Life,
Felix Holt (which Tolstoy admired), and the historical novel Romola.
Apple

I am looking at the posts regarding Jane Austen I have never been really comfortable "reading" these stories, I have never really totally enjoyed them, that way, however, when I have listened to them as audio books I have enjoyed them a lot more and would go as far to say she is one of my fav authors for audio books, I am not sure why I make that distinction or if anyone could offer any theories on that I'd be grateful, I think it links in with how well I think they adapt to tv as well as for me the diffinitive version of Pride and Prejudice will always be BBC version with Colin Firth as Mr Darcy.
Sandraseahorse

The only reason I can suggest that you prefer to listen to Jane Austen, Apple, is that critics praise the clarity of her language.  I find that often in reading I tend to skim paragraphs and get the gist of the story rather than appreciate the language.  Perhaps in listening to an audio version, we appreciate the language more.

With regard to my three favourite authors, I feel that Mike Harvey has put the case for Thomas Hardy and E.S. Nesbitt so well that I can only concur.  However, I would swop Dickens for Evelyn Waugh.
TheRejectAmidHair

I find myself tempted to skim when the prose is bland and boring. (This is almost invariably the case when I browse through popular bestselling titles in bookshops.) I remember when I had to read The Shadow of the Wind for a book group I belonged to: I would read through entire pages before realising that my mind had switched off, and that I hadn’t taken in a word of what I’d read. And, because I was committed to reading the book, I had to go back and read the whole damn thing over again, making a determined effort to concentrate.

But one thing one can never complain about with Austen is the quality of her prose: it is exquisite. Each sentence is perfectly structured in terms of sounds and cadences and rhythms; each word perfectly chosen to communicate exactly what the author wants – no more and no less - and perfectly placed within the sentence to make just the desired impact; the sentences flowing one from another with a spontaneity and naturalness that can only be a consequence of conscious artistic design. With prose such as this, I find I am in no rush to move on: quite the contrary, I enjoy lingering. Just as I don’t gulp down a quality malt whisky, but, rather, spend time rolling it across my palate to savour the fine subtleties of the flavor – so, I find, with well-constructed prose. (Fizzy drinks, on the other hand, I gulp down as quickly as possible! Smile )
Ann

Mikeharvey wrote:
Hello Ann - I haven't read WET MAGIC!! How did I miss that one?  One of my treasured possessions is a first edition copy of E.Nesbit's short story collection OSWALD BASTABLE AND OTHERS.  One of the line illustrations has been most beautifully and carefully coloured in by a previous child (I presume) owner.  I feel quite tender and sentimental about whoever it was.

Have you read Jaqueline Wilson's recent homage to E.Nesbit -FOUR CHILDREN AND IT?  A group of modern children encounter the Psammead and have wishes granted including - delightfully - meeting the five children from the original story!


No I vaguely think I did hear of it, now you mention it, so I must try and find a copy - it sounds good fun and she is a skilled writer
TheRejectAmidHair

Since we've been talking about this, I came upon this by Henry James in one of his letters:

"...Emma Woodhouse and Anne Elliot give us as great an impression of 'passion'--that celebrated quality—as the ladies of G. Sand and Balzac."
MikeAlx

Austen's language may be precise and accomplished, but for me it doesn't conjure vivid scenes in the imagination. There were maybe two scenes in Persuasion that came to life for me - one was a relatively minor scene involving a child; the other was the well-known accident on The Cobb. This isn't necessarily a failing, as not everyone is particularly interested in sensory evocation, but it's generally one of the things I most look for in a novel.
Evie

I too look for sensory evocation - but I do find it in Austen, so clearly that in itself is part of the chemistry between author and reader.  Her prose is far more than 'precise and accomplished' to me - it really sings off the page, and I can see and hear everything and everyone.  It is quite classical, but that in itself is evocative of the period.  Delicious.
TheRejectAmidHair

The discussion is going into interesting areas here. My own ideas, as ever, are not yet fully formed, but I’ll try to articulate them as best I can, and see if it leads anywhere.

At the risk of over-simplifying, there are two very distinct modes of expression: Classical and Romantic. I am reminded somewhat of Balzac’s novel Les Illusions Perdues, part of which depicts the Parisian literary scene and the world of journalism in the 1830s. Here, everyone is very distinctly either in the “Classical” camp, or in the “Romantic” camp. The two camps live up entirely to the stereotypes (and I guess Balzac is having a bit of fun sending up both factions): the Classicists regard the Romantics as undisciplined and over-extravagant; the Romantic regard the Classicists as being distant and inhibited. Strangely enough, it’s the Romantic camp that is depicted as the more reactionary: it isn’t the case that the more modern one is in one’s outlook, the more Romantic. For instance, the Classicists’ great idol was Racine, whereas the Romantics idolised Shakespeare. We can see this even if we look beyond Balzac’s novel: the Classicist Voltaire adored Racine and Corneille, and described Shakespeare as a “barbarian”; whereas, in a later generation, Romantics such as Berlioz and Hugo idolised Shakespeare.

In music, my ears were tuned first to the Classicists – and to this day, I find myself slightly shocked when I hear people describe Mozart’s music as merely formal and decorous, and lacking in passion. But with literature, my earliest and most lasting loves were that “barbarian” Shakespeare, and then, straight into the Romantic poets and the novelists of the mid- to late- 19th centuries. And I think I don’t really know how to read the “Classical” writers – Pope, Johnson, Racine, and yes, of course, Austen – that Classicist anomalously writing during the height of Romanticism. The distance and the decorous formality I encounter I have not yet learn to look beyond.

Some time ago, the Guardian asked various authors to nominate the most erotic scene in literature:

http://www.guardian.co.uk/books/2...ary-sex-scenes-writers-favourites

Note Howard Jacobson’s choice.

I missed it when I read it. It's easy to miss things when you're not in sympathy with the author's aesthetics. God knows what else I missed.
Evie

I do think there is a lot of sex in Jane Austen - but it's all as subtle as that.  It was Andrew Davies's reasoning in having, for example, Mr Darcy in his wet shirt, and also watching Lizzie playing with his dogs through the window when he has just got out of the bath and is dressed only in his dressing gown.  Davies said the sexual undercurrents and erotic notes are there, and things such as this were his visual way of conveying them.  It's not that the passion is repressed, but that the reader only gets a hint of it - the characters themselves are passionate.
Hector

A little bit late to this thread but I've been having a think. It's difficult to wittle it down to three because I find reading certain authors depends on my mood and particular interests at a particular time. If I had to choose right now it would be (and in no partiular order):

Tolstoy
Delillo
Roth
Green Jay

I agree with Evie that there is a lot of sex in Austen. And it is not all loving passion and appropriate. I like the fact that her teenage girls - the secondary characters - are mad about soldiers and not in the least averse to a handsome face, uniform, or legs! (I was going to put gagging for it but that seemed a bit rude.  Smile ) And all those rides in fast carriages!  They are always putting themselves where the men are, to see and be seen, whether it's dances, military parades, or the seafront. They are virginal but not like the virtuous heroines of later literature i.e. sexless and delicately unaware of men's interest in them and more particularly their own interest in men.  Don't forget, JA's not a Victorian; that all came later. Her early reading was Fielding etc where men and women were always eyeing each other up and more.

And I agree with Mike Alex. She is not a visual writer, and does not seem interested in giving landscape and other descriptions more than cursory attention. But then it is so English that I have never not been able to visualise what is going on very clearly - even before I saw all those films and TV series.
TheRejectAmidHair

Green Jay wrote:
And I agree with Mike Alex. She is not a visual writer, and does not seem interested in giving landscape and other descriptions more than cursory attention. But then it is so English that I have never not been able to visualise what is going on very clearly - even before I saw all those films and TV series.


Is this necessarily the case? I don't know - I'll be more of an Austenite this time next year, I guess. But from what I remember, when they all visit Mr Rushworth's estate Sotherton (in Mansfield Park), the landscape was particulaly well depicted. Also, the Portsmouth chapters certainly take place in a different landscape from the rest of the novel. I can't remember whether Austen achieves this by actuallydescribing the landscape, or by some other means, but there was certainly a sense of Portsmouth being a different place.
chris-l

Oddly enough, I think I would agree with both Himadri, and Mike and Green Jay on this. I think she can describe landscape, when it is important to the plot: as has been said, in 'Mansfield Park', when 'improvement' of the landscape is a key metaphor, or in 'Persuasion', when Lyme Regis and its harbour provide the background to a seminal moment in the story. More usually, what we have is a 'sense of place', the atmosphere of a particular location, such as Bath in 'Persuasion' or 'Northanger Abbey', or the Devon countryside in 'Sense and Sensibility'. Most of the time, much attention seems to be paid to the living spaces, so we often have quite detailed accounts of the layout of a house, but rather less to the great outdoors. Jane Austen herself spent most of her life within a fairly limited geographical area, so perhaps she felt somewhat constrained in describing places of which she had little knowledge.
Henry979

It is difficult to name three.

Number one is probably John Steinbeck for East of Eden.

Number two is more difficult but probably Fyodor Dostoyevsky for Crime and Punishment, Notes From the Underground, and especially The Brothers Karamazov and the chapter titled "The Grand Inquisitor."

Number three:

Victor Hugo. Les Miserables, couldn't put it down.

Leo tolstoy. For War and Peace. Slow at first but the description of the invasion of Russia by the French was masterful.

F. Scott Fitzgerald. The last couple of pages of the Great Gatsby were poetic.

Sylvia Plath. The Bell Jar is one of the most beautifully written books I have ever read.

William Kennedy.  Ironweed. Another of the most beautifully written books I have ever read.

Mark Twain. Huckleberry Finn and Tom Sawyer. Frees the imagination of children and plants the seed of the American love of adventure. Finn
also helps a child transition into adulthood.

One could go on forever with number three.
TheRejectAmidHair

Hello Henry, and welcome to the board.

This has Ben a bit of a fun thread - partly because, as you can see, it's virtually impossible to narrow down one's favourite novelists to 3; and also because our choics throw up interesting things to discuss.

Given your choices, I think you should feel very much at home here!

I was interested to read your comment on Les Miserables: I haven't yet read it, & was planning to tackle it some time later this year.

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