La duchesse d’Erat’s Great Book of List this week asks us to list books that transport us. Delighted to see that the Duchesse shares some of my favorites (Pride and Prejudice, Wuthering Heights in particular) these are my other “go to books” when I want to escape from reality.
As you can tell from my list I prefer older books. I love the 18th century for its rollicking stories, wit and bravura, the 19th century for its drama and intensity and the early 20th for its quaint daring and champagne cork vitality.
The picture is of a few books in my collection of little academic merit but bought because I simply could not resist their titles.
Who could not be tempted by “The Crippled Lady of Peribonka”, “Scum of the Seas”, “The Late Miss Hollingford” or “Brighter French for Bright Young People” (With essential phrases such as “Oh dear I seem to have broken my cigarette holder!” and “Have you unearthed anything new in the way of cocktails?”)
“The Mystery of a Pink Stud” raises all sorts of questions and there is a very suspicious one legged man on the cover…
Anyhoo…These are my actual top ten books that transported me. (with a few extras thrown in)
- Persuasion and Emma by Jane Austen: I cannot say which I love more. The spoilt heiress finding self-knowledge in a plot written with the lightest of touch and the most scintillating wit or a lady who finds love late after losing it early through persuasion. The wistfulness and longing of Jane Austen’s final complete novel is so touching that if I weren’t a rugged sunburnt Aussie bloke, I could shed a tear every time at the end.
- The Mapp and Lucia Books by EF Benson – I can’t separate out which of these I love most. I have read and reread these 6 books. They are to me the quintessence of comic writing. EF Benson takes the most tawdry of domestic events in small English village’s snobbish upper middle class society in the 1920s and 30s and weaves tales of the most hilarious type. His mastery of composition is what makes these gems eternally delightful to me.
- Humphrey Clinker by Tobias Smollett: Once one of the most famous novels of the 18th Century now it is sadly unknown although it can still be easily bought. A family goes on a grand tour of Europe and the book is a collection of the different characters’ letters to their friends as they travel. The irascible Uncle, the foppish nephew and the love sick niece, the virago Aunt, a semi-literate maid and of course Humphrey Clinker. It is a wonderful tale and the different viewpoints of the same incidents add to the satire and general hilarity.
- Tom Jones – Fielding: That classic of 18th Century literature is an endless rollercoaster of intrigue, humor, outrage and farce. Fielding’s own rational views of life at a time of great superstition, bigotry and stupidity are there on every page but he never preaches. Poor Tom is no angel but you love him just the same. Sophia on the other hand, is an angel and you love her even more…
- The Scarlet Pimpernel – The Baroness Orczy: English aristocrat uber-fop by day, dashing savior of the French aristocracy by night, this book is an endless joy as Sir Percy snatches Duchesses and Dukes from the very embrace of Madame Guillotine and without a speck of dust marring his lace cuffs. I clearly support the book’s theme that the French revolutionaries deserve to be thwarted due to the sorry state of their cravats.
- The Man in the Grey Flannel Suit, Sloan Wilson – One of the best book I have ever read. The conflict of a returned serviceman’s re-entry into a world of budding corporate America after WWII. It still has amazing power.
- Brave New World – We all read 1984 at School as a model for dystopia and the problems of “Big Brother” yet to me Brave New World is far more like today and the prescient messages from the 1920s have remarkable resonance for me.
- The Vicar of Wakefield, Oliver Goldsmith – Good triumphs over evil as it should in this most charming of tales.
- Les Liaisons dangereuses, Pierre Choderlos de Laclos. This darkest of cautionary tales takes you step by step through the mire to its dreadful conclusion but I couldn’t put it down.
- Cranford by Mrs Gaskell – The ladies of Cranford are ever delightful in this wistful and charming novel. Who can forget Miss Mattie refreshing the lace that the cat ate?
For La duchesse d’Erat’s Great Book of Lists 4