This past semester I took a class called British Literature: 1700 to the Present. We read a number of things (including more poetry than I would have liked) and I'm just finishing the final papers for the class. I thought I would include some book reviews here of the novels we read.
Essay on Man - Alexander Pope
Not really a novel, but interesting nonetheless. Pope was a big name during the Age of Reason and wrote Essay on Man as a way of expressing his ideas on the universe, the individual, society and happiness. It's not very easy to read, but if you take your time there is some great stuff in there. It's not necessarily new and earth-shattering ideas (Pope was of the opinion that there wasn't anything new to be said, just newer and wittier ways to say it), but the way that he expresses his thoughts show how truly intelligent and creative he was.
Gulliver's Travels - Jonathan Swift
Gulliver's Travels was written as a satire on the travel-log books that were becoming quite profuse in the late 18th century. As new lands and peoples were being discovered more and more men were publishing their tales of exploration and encounters with the "natives." Swift used this trend to create Gulliver, a pompous doctor who takes to the sea and discovers four separate and unique worlds. He also uses the stories to express his opinions about the political happenings of the time. I really didn't like Gulliver so it was hard to read along and hear him talking on and on about his trips. And the places that he visited kept getting more and more crazy and hard to believe. By the end of the book I was shaking my head very ready for it to be done.
Hard Times - Charles Dickens
Dickens did not like the changes that the Industrial Revolution brought to the country. He saw the squalor and poor working conditions of the people and used his books to complain, making villains of the rich and unfeeling factory owners and others in power who he felt didn't do what they could to help those in need. Hard Times is a very harsh indictment of the industrial society, but is also a very interesting story. Like most of Dickens' books it is overly descriptive which can take away from the plot a bit, but by the end you really know the people and the settings because of the abundance of descriptions. There aren't as many characters as in most Dickens' novels, but that makes it easier to follow and to be invested in the lives of the few you meet. It's also one of those books where you are a bit bored up until the last third and then you can't put it down because you have to know what's going to happen next.
A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man - James Joyce
I have to say this book was rubbish. It was another book where I did not like the main character so I did not care what he did or didn't do and by the end of the story I just wanted him to get out of his head and grow up. Stephen Dedalus is a young boy growing up in Ireland. The book starts with him as a toddler and quickly moves to his time in school. I did like the way Joyce creatively wrote it as real life interspersed with memories and dreams. It was almost like trying to capture a stream of consciousness which was slightly confusing, but also an interesting way of writing. In general, though, the story was too intellectual for its own good. There were tons of allusions and motifs interspersed with poetry and grumbling. I know it's considered a classic, but I would give it a pass if I were you.
There you go...my opinions on a semester worth of reading (minus the poetry because I haven't quite recovered enough to write about that yet).