Friday, April 3, 2015

The Classics Salon: My First Impressions of a Current Classic I am Reading

Week One: What are your first impressions 

of the current classic you are reading?

I am joining Saari at Mangoes and Cherry Blossoms for this week's Classic Salon.  For more info, go here.  

This is actually a difficult question because I am in the process of reading three classics, if I want to include The Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin.  The other two are The Voyage Out, by Virginia Woolf, and The Fortune of the Rougons, by Émile Zola.  On a short note, I have nothing but praise for all three.  

But now, the challenge is to choose one to discuss, and I have to be quick about it because I have only a few minutes to come up with something thoughtful.  The children are gathered around the table, eating breakfast, and we have a full day of school work ahead of us.  Ahhhhh!  

Ok, I choose The Fortune of the Rougons.  First let me begin with my emotional reaction: Wednesday night I read the first chapter, and in the middle of the night I woke up thinking about reading my book.  I was furiously highlighting and underlining every line and every quote.  It was so enjoyable, until I woke to realize I was only dreaming.  Or rather, given there was no plot to my dream, I was experiencing only fleeting images of me reading my book.  That's what reading Zola does to me.

The first chapter of The Fortune is an introduction to the setting and its people, a fascinating description of the district and how it came to be, and the three main groups of people who inhabit the land.  Next, Zola zeroes in on two young people in the present time of the setting, France, 1851; one is heading out to participate in the uprising, the other is his love.  They were in the process of saying goodbye, until she joined the resistance at the last moment.  

Last night I finished chapter two, in which Zola gave an in-depth review of the family roots of the Rougon-Macquart family.  He explains the traits that are passed on to the children and the children's children.  And now we are left with the main character (I am only assuming), Pierre Rougon, fighting his half-siblings and his mother for the fortune that he believes is rightfully his.

So what is my first impression of this early start to The Fortune of the Rougons?  I am totally engaged and eager to sit down and read chapter three.  Zola is an exciting and masterful writer.  He leaves nothing to the imagination, if that is ok with you.  You are going to get every particular, uncensored and precise.  While I am only two chapters in, I am not surprised that Zola has already grabbed my attention.  And I must insert here that I have been thoroughly busy and unable to read as I want; that while reading last night, my eyes began closing.  But I pushed myself to the very end of chapter two because I needed to know the rest of the story of Pierre's fight for his fortune.  

Hence, I am anxious to get back to chapter three.  If I can accomplish that this weekend, it will be an absolute miracle.

P.S. Correction and confession: As I found time to read this afternoon, I discovered that I had stopped several pages short of chapter two; therefore, I forgot that I had read about Pierre's marriage to Félicitè, and did not even get through the part about five children, their eduction, and the possible ruin of the family fortune, that is, if they can gain anything from the coming Revolution.   The suspense!

But THAT'S how tired I was last night.


JaneGS said...

>Zola is an exciting and masterful writer.

No kidding. I was so surprised to find out how much I liked him when I read Germinal last year. I was also surprised by the graphic scenes, given the time in which he wrote. I wasn't offended at all, just surprised.

It's great when a classic can engage you so early--I find many classics take awhile before you get to any sort of action or urgency.

Sounds like a wonderful book and one I hope to read sooner rather than later.

Cleo said...

I really like this idea of an update. I'm glad so see that you're enjoying the Rougon-Macquart #1. It's a wonderful introduction and Zola is the master of description. I have yet to start my Zola ....... #4 Money.

How are you doing on your progress through The Voyage Out? It's pretty slow and meandering and not very engaging but nevertheless, I'm enjoying it.

Ruth said...

Germinal was my first. It was graphic, but I did not mind either, given the context.

I've had some trouble getting into some classics. I could never get into Song of Solomon, by Toni Morrison; and I had a hard time sticking with Mrs. Dalloway. I'm struggling through The Last of the Mohicans, and I'm at chapter three! Hope I connect soon.

BTW, do you have a blog, too?

Ruth said...

I am half way through, and it is good. I like the dialogue, though it's not riveting. It's like I'm doing a lot of eaves dropping on conversations. The difficult part is that I am reading it on my iCloud, or whatever that is, and most of my reading gets done when I'm waiting at dance class, martial arts, or the orthodontist. But I cannot take my lap top, so I can only read The Voyage Out if I can sneak in a quiet moment at home; and there is never a quiet moment at home.

Risa said...

Zola! Zola! Zola! I seem to be about the only person who hasn't tried Zola as yet. I recently bought "Nana" but I have as yet to read it. I've also got his short stories on my ibook reader. Maybe I should give those a try first so that I know what exactly folk admire about Zola that I am missing. I think it's incredible that you are so inspired you actually dreamt you'd been reading the novel. :D I look forward to seeing where this novel takes you. :D

Ruth said...

I've only read Germinal and this current title, and I would say Zola is a storyteller. He likes to give a lot of detail about people, character traits, behavior, places, and events. So if you appreciate details, you may enjoy his work.

Sharon Wilfong said...

Like Saari I've never read Zola although I think about his portrait that Manet painted of him. That was hilarious about your dream. Do write all over your books? I'm hesitant to do that just in case someone else wants to read my book. Mortimer Adler in "How to Read a Book" says that you should write in your books, still....
You like lots of detail? I'm not sure I would. I guess I'll have to read the Fortune of Rougons to find out.

Ruth said...

Yes, I do write in my books, and I started doing that after reading The Well-Educated Mind, by Bauer. I make notes or use one word at the top of the page to indicate something specific on that page; so when I am looking back for it, I can find it. I underline a lot, too.

I make such a mess of my books that I cannot give my copy to anyone. : ( I have even bought new copies just for myself b/c my books are so defaced!

Regarding detail, in a Zola story, I don't mind a lot of detail; however, I will say this: his physical descriptions of characters are not very attractive. Sometimes they are grotesque.

Max Weismann said...


We are a not-for-profit educational organization founded by Mortimer Adler and we have recently made an exciting discovery—three years after writing the wonderfully expanded third edition of How to Read a Book, Mortimer Adler and Charles Van Doren made a series of thirteen 14-minute videos—lively discussing the art of reading. The videos were produced by Encyclopaedia Britannica. For reasons unknown, sometime after their original publication, these videos were lost.

Three hours with Mortimer Adler and Charles Van Doren, lively discussing the art of reading on one DVD. A must for all readers, libraries and classroom teaching the art of reading.

I cannot exaggerate how instructive these programs are—we are so sure that you will agree, if you are not completely satisfied, we will refund your donation.

Please go here to see a clip and learn more:

ISBN: 978-1-61535-311-8

Thank you,

Max Weismann, Co-founder with Dr. Adler

Cleo said...

I bought this DVD and while it's excellent, I'm surprised to hear that it's 3 hours. I'll have to go back and watch it again. I was under the impression it was around an hour, but I certainly could be mistaken.

Cleo said...

P.S. Is there any chance that his Great Ideas Television Series complete DVD will come down in price? I keep eyeing it, but there's no way that I could pay $400 for it.