Classics Challenge 2017 – January

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January has come and gone – so quickly! Has anyone got the impression that we have only just celebrated New Year’s? Anyway, this month’s task was to read A 19th Century Classic – any book published between 1800 and 1899. Serenity and Cocktail Phoenix have once again embarked on this adventure and here is what we thought of our first classic of the year.

Serenity: To kick January off, I went with a collection of Sherlock Holmes short stories. I very much enjoyed that each little story was so brief and yet so perfectly Sherlockian. I read one or two a day for the most part and it was a bit like watching a tv episode each night. As for the stories themselves, many were ones I had not heard of before. A few have been used in the various TV shows and movies, such as the Scandal in Bohemia, which brings in the notorious Irene Adler.
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The one thing that stood out to me throughout these stories, is that Holmes seems to have a bit of a heart emerging from time to time. Most modern interpretations seem to focus more on his detached brilliance, but in these stories there are more than a few instances of Holmes responding to someone in concern. A case in point would be the last story, The Adventure of the Copper Beaches, where Holmes repeatedly says he would not send his own sister to a particular home and worries quite a bit over the girl who braved it. Was he fuzzy and soft? Not at all, but he also wasn’t quite so detached as my mental image had him. Is this a big deal? Probably not, but I always love to see how modern versions match up with the original.

While I enjoyed these stories very much, on the whole I didn’t find them as strong as the Sherlock novels. For the most part, I think that is just a struggle that most short stories have, though. Overall I gave it four charms, because at the end of the day, it’s still Holmes and Watson!

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Cocktail Phoenix: To kick off 2017, I went with The Island of Dr. Moreau by H.G. Wells. The book was published in 1896, and it is a fairly short read. That does in no way retract from the plot though. There is a lot of discussion material in those few pages and I can see why this might have had quite an impact at the time it was published, as well as later on in literature courses.

I found the story to be a little… odd in places, but that was most likely the intention of the author – trying to shock people and make them recoil at the various descriptions of men/creations the main character, Edward Prendick, encounters on this extraordinary adventure. I expected a little more explanation on the ways Dr. Moreau’s mind worked but the bits of information the main character does get made it clear that there was something not quite right with his mind. A brilliant scientist, I’m almost convinced, but his application thereof was not very sane.

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The idea behind the mad scientist’s creations however is one I enjoyed a lot. It’s a recurring theme in this kind of genre – and also a reason why I like well-written dystopias quite a lot. Humans are animalistic, in one way or another, an evolution of something far more primitive and savage as we are now, and Wells turns this around in this book. Moreau tries to transform animals into humans, tries to turn them into something they are not. For a while, it always works, but then these experiments, without fail, revert back to what they have been before – savage beasts. Primitive instincts always win, and animals always go back to the very basics, the core of their being. It always makes me wonder at the sophistication and technology humans surround themselves with, alienating themselves more and more from nature, cloning, genetics, and so forth on a never-ending list – is this ever going to turn back on us?

Honestly, I would have enjoyed talking this through in a lit course and maybe even answered some exam questions on it. This may sound weird, I’m fully aware of that ;-), but it is a fascinating piece of story, even if the writing isn’t the most enticing I have read. I have been meaning to read it for a few years now as well and it is only recently that I finally got my hands on a physical copy thanks to a friend of mine, a school teacher, who happened to have a spare copy lying around which he kindly gifted to me. I ended up rating this 3 charms – maybe 3.5.

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