Classic of the Month: The Master and Margarita

mastermargaritaThe Master and Margaria by Mikhail Bulgakov

Published by Penguin Classics on May 3, 2016

Genres: Adult, Fiction, Classics, Magical Realism, Cultural

Pages: 448 Format: Paperback Source: Library

2.5/5 Stars

Image and Description Credit: Goodreads

A 50th-anniversary Deluxe Edition of the incomparable 20th-century masterpiece of satire and fantasy, in a newly revised version of the acclaimed Pevear and Volokhonsky translation, made from the complete and unabridged Russian text.

Nothing in the whole of literature compares with The Master and Margarita. One spring afternoon, the Devil, trailing fire and chaos in his wake, weaves himself out of the shadows and into Moscow. Mikhail Bulgakov’s fantastical, funny, and devastating satire of Soviet life combines two distinct yet interwoven parts, one set in contemporary Moscow, the other in ancient Jerusalem, each brimming with historical, imaginary, frightful, and wonderful characters. Written during the darkest days of Stalin’s reign, and finally published in 1966 and 1967, The Master and Margarita became a literary phenomenon, signaling artistic and spiritual freedom for Russians everywhere.


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Classic of the Month: A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens

christmascarolotherA Christmas Carol and Other Christmas Writings by Charles Dickens

Published by Penguin Classics on October 30, 2oo3

Genres: Classics, Fiction, Holiday, Literary

Pages: 288 Format: Paperback Source: Library

4/5 Stars

Image and Description Credit: Goodreads

Dickens’ story of solitary miser Ebenezer Scrooge, who is taught the true meaning of Christmas by a series of ghostly visitors, has proved one of his most well-loved works. Ever since it was published in 1843 it has had an enduring influence on the way we think about the traditions of Christmas. Dickens’ other Christmas writings collected here include ‘The Story of the Goblins who Stole a Sexton’, the short story from The Pickwick Papers on which A Christmas Carol was based; The Haunted Man, a tale of a man tormented by painful memories; along with shorter pieces, some drawn from the ‘Christmas Stories’ that Dickens wrote annually for his weekly journals. In all of them Dickens celebrates the season as one of geniality, charity and remembrance.

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Classic of the Month: King Lear

KingLearKing Lear by William Shakespeare

Published by Signet in June 1998

Genres: Classics, Fiction, Plays, Drama

Pages: 275 Format: Paperback Source: Library

2/5 Stars

Image and Description Credit: Goodreads

King Lear, growing old and too tired to reign, decides to divide his realm amongst his three daughters, leaving the largest share to the one who loves him the most. His two eldest daughters, Goneril and Regan, foolish and deceitful children, are rewarded for their insincere flattery. His youngest daughter, Cordelia, however, speaks honestly and truthfully, which enrages the old king. He disinherits Cordelia, and then drives himself to madness, left to wander the heath with only his Fool, his servant Caius, and the madman Tom O’Bedlam for company. Once reunited with Cordelia, Lear is too late, repents his rashness, and must face the tragic consequences of his choices.


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Classic of the Month: The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison

BluestEyeThe Bluest Eye by Toni Morisson

Published by Knopf on December 28, 1993

Genres: Fiction, Classics, African-American, Historical

Pages: 216 Format: Hardcover Source: Library

4/5 Stars

Image and Description Credit: Goodreads

The Bluest Eye is Toni Morrison’s first novel, a book heralded for its richness of language and boldness of vision. Set in the author’s girlhood hometown of Lorain, Ohio, it tells the story of black, eleven-year-old Pecola Breedlove. Pecola prays for her eyes to turn blue so that she will be as beautiful and beloved as all the blond, blue-eyed children in America. In the autumn of 1941, the year the marigolds in the Breedloves’ garden do not bloom. Pecola’s life does change- in painful, devastating ways.
What its vivid evocation of the fear and loneliness at the heart of a child’s yearning, and the tragedy of its fulfillment. The Bluest Eye remains one of Toni Morrisons’s most powerful, unforgettable novels- and a significant work of American fiction.


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Classic of the Month: The Crucible by Arthur Miller

CrucibleThe Crucible by Arthur Miller

Published by Penguin Classics on March 25, 2003

Genres: Fiction, Classics, Plays, Historical, Drama

Pages: 143 Format: Paperback Source: Library

4/5 Stars

Image and Description Credit: Goodreads

“I believe that the reader will discover here the essential nature of one of the strangest and most awful chapters in human history,” Arthur Miller wrote of his classic play about the witch-hunts and trials in seventeenth-century Salem, Massachusetts. Based on historical people and real events, Miller’s drama is a searing portrait of a community engulfed by hysteria. In the rigid theocracy of Salem, rumors that women are practicing witchcraft galvanize the town’s most basic fears and suspicions; and when a young girl accuses Elizabeth Proctor of being a witch, self-righteous church leaders and townspeople insist that Elizabeth be brought to trial. The ruthlessness of the prosecutors and the eagerness of neighbor to testify against neighbor brilliantly illuminate the destructive power of socially sanctioned violence.

Written in 1953, The Crucible is a mirror Miller uses to reflect the anti-communist hysteria inspired by Senator Joseph McCarthy’s “witch-hunts” in the United States. Within the text itself, Miller contemplates the parallels, writing, “Political opposition… is given an inhumane overlay, which then justifies the abrogation of all normally applied customs of civilized behavior. A political policy is equated with moral right, and opposition to it with diabolical malevolence.”

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Classic of the Month: The Eve of St. Agnes

EveofStAgnesThe Eve of St. Agnes by John Keats

Published by Penguin Classics on February 26, 2015

Genres: Fiction, Poetry, Classics, Romance

Pages: 64 Format: Paperback Source: Purchased

4/5 Stars

Image Credit: Goodreads

The Romantic poet’s most lyrical, enchanting verse on myth, sensuality, dreams, and superstition. 

This Little Black Classic collects five of John Keats’ poems: The Eve of St. Agnes, La Belle Dame sans Merci. A Ballad, Lamia, Ode to Psyche, and Ode on a Grecian Urn. It’s full of gorgeous prose, romantic leanings, and vivid imagery.

When I Discovered This Classic

John Keats is a poet we hear about so often but I had never actually sat down to read any of his work before. When the Little Black Classics were released I thought it was the perfect time to read a selection of his poems. Keats weaves words with such eloquent design and I’m glad I picked it up for Classic of the Month.

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Classic of the Month: Come Close by Sappho

ComeCloseCome Close by Sappho

Published by Penguin Classics on February 26, 2015

Genres: Fiction, Poetry, Classical

Pages: 55 Format: Paperback Source: Purchased

4.5/5 Stars

Image Credit: Goodreads

Sensual, sun-soaked verse on love and the gods in Ancient Greece, from the poet named ‘the tenth Muse’ by Plato.

This month’s classic, Come Close by Sappho, was a short but sweet interlude between all the new release books I’ve been reading this month. Born on the island of Lesbos, Sappho was a lyric poet from Ancient Greece. As with most classical literature, a majority of Sappho’s writing has been lost to the world, but her legacy lives on in surviving fragments like those contained in this compilation.

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Plays on Dionysus: Euripides, Aristophanes, and Me (Discussion)

At the beginning of December, Jean Bookishthoughts on Youtube, held a Classical Literature Readathon and the two books chosen were Euripides’ The Bacchae and Aristophanes’ The Frogs. Two entirely different Greek plays, the former a tragedy and the latter a comedy, yet both revolving around the Greek god Dionysus. Reading these two stories got me thinking about his appearances in literature and differing preferences on theme so I thought a little discussion was in order.

Dionysus is known as the god of wine and fertility, even as a patron of the arts. In most mythology his parents are Zeus and the human Semele, and Hera in a jealous rage had him torn apart by Titans. He was  brought back to life by Rhea though and is often related to rebirth. His personality traits were often described like a dual personality. On the one hand bringing ecstasy and joy, the other brutality and horrible rage.

Euripides’ The Bacchae speaks to the Greek god’s dual sides. When he is spoken of in the play, the focus is on vivacious life and spontaneity. The character of Dionysus though is spiteful and seeks vengeance for the slanderous claims in regards to his birth. In The Frogs, Aristophanes’ portrayal of Dionysus is of someone constantly making errors in judgment and never learning from his mistakes. He is a joke until the end of the narrative.

If you’re looking for a YA depiction, Rick Riordan’s Percy Jackson series will have you covered. There Dionysus is portrayed as disinterested, selfish, and spoiled rotten. In DC’s New 52 Wonder Woman, Dio is a punk rock teen who can inspire madness but is also indulgent of the finer things. Personally I like when Dionysus is created with both of his sides in mind, the joy and the madness. I find him more interesting that way, a more complete character.

The Bacchae and The Frogs are very typical of their respective genres. As a tragedy, Euripides’ work drips of suffering, wronged parties, and emotional upheaval. There is no questioning the disaster that will surely unfold. Aristophanes fills his tale with stupid humor, a comedy of errors and bathroom jokes. It also pokes fun at Euripides, who turns up as a character in the story, allowing Aristophanes to critique the other playwright.

I’ve always been one drawn to stories that will take my heart for an emotional ride and most likely leave me a complete mess. Whether it’s novels, television shows, movies, etc., I go for the drama. It’s not that I don’t like comedies, just that I have a hard time relating to them. The same goes for my taste in plays. I much prefer The Bacchae over The Frogs. For me, it was more compelling and intense. Aristophanes’ work just did not resonate with me.

All in all, reading these books helped me to realize that I want to continue getting into classical literature. Most of what I read was back in college for my degree and I want to get back to it. I enjoyed looking at Dionysus in different ways and talking about how my tastes in genre tend to fall on one side. Now it’s time for you to join in!

Here are some questions we can discuss further in comments:

  • What is your favorite depiction of Dionysus?
  • When it comes to plays, do you prefer tragedies or comedies?
  • What is your favorite play of all time?
  • Are any of you interested in Classical literature? If so, do you have a favorite?

 

Classic of the Month: Ethan Frome by Edith Wharton

5246Ethan Frome by Edith Wharton

Published by Penguin Classics on October 25, 2005

Genres: Classics, Adult, Historical, Literature

Pages: 128 Format: Paperback Source: Library

4/5 Stars

Ethan Frome works his unproductive farm and struggles to maintain a bearable existence with his difficult, suspicious, and hypochondriac wife, Zeena. But when Zeena’s vivacious cousin enters their household as a “hired girl”, Ethan finds himself obsessed with her and with the possibilities for happiness she comes to represent.

In one of American fiction’s finest and most intense narratives, Edith Wharton moves this ill-starred trio toward their tragic destinies. Different in both tone and theme from Wharton’s other works, Ethan Frome has become perhaps her most enduring and most widely read novel.

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Classic of the Month: Animal Farm

7613Animal Farm by George Orwell

Published by Plume on May 6, 2003

Genres: Classics, Science Fiction, Academic, Satire

Pages: 102 Format: Paperback Source: Library

2/5 Stars

The animals on Mr. Jones’s farm stage a successful revolution, and take the place over. Their hopes, their plans, and their achievements form the subject of Animal Farm. In the first flush of enthusiasm there is set up a great commandment, All animals are equal, but unfortunately leadership devolves almost automatically on the pigs, who are on a higher intellectual level than the rest. The revolution begins to go wrong-yet at every step excellent excuses are always forthcoming for each perversion of the original doctrine.

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