Female Grosbeak

Our Hyde Park Corner (or Squawk Box).  A place for more general discussion about the Classics Book Club – as, for example, suggestions for future readings.

(Use the large “Leave a Reply” box at the bottom of the page to introduce new topics.)

Readers for My Ántonia
 Posted 2 June 2018 – by Tom Looker
I’ve been asked whether I have audiobook recommendations for both Cather’s My Ántonia and Wharton’s The Age of Innocence.

I’ve now spent some time listening to the clips of narrators for Cather’s novel (via Audible) and my recommendations have changed slightly from my previous posting.  Now I think that Grover Gardiner (for Audio Contractors) delivers the most engaging performance.  His voice sounds more mature and flexible (within limits) than the other readers and he speaks with a quirky, distinctively American twang. He tells his story with animation and in a tone that makes me think occasionally of Samuel Clemens. If I remember rightly from previous books (e.g. some by Faulkner*), Gardiner doesn’t do a lot with the different voices of the various characters, yet his overall delivery is engaging enough to keep a listener involved.  (Gardiner’s was the one clip on Audible that held my attention for the entire 5-minutes;  I had to push myself to keep listening to the other audio samples.)

However, for some reason Grover Gardiner‘s performance is not in our library system at the moment.  (I will try to make some copies available to anyone interested.)  Of the remaining readers, I can recommend two whose voices are a little less repetitive, uninflected, and tedious than is the norm for American actors. (Of course I am speaking out of my own prejudices.)
Bob Colacci (for Brilliance Audio) and Jeff Cummings (for Blackstone) strike me as the best alternatives to Grover Gardiner.  The short clips on Audible don’t help me choose between them because I can’t tell how each reader might wear on the ear after a while.  Both voices are lighter and more boyish than Gardiner’s – not necessarily a bad thing;  the problem is that as actors they’re less disciplined and focused than the older thespian, and so they’re sure to become more tedious in the long run.  Still, as I say, I think they’re good enough to carry listeners through the book.
I can’t recommend any of the other readers.  I’ll make particular mention of George Guidall (Recorded Books) because he’s readily available in the libraries and because he’s well-known.  Unfortunately, to my ear, Guidall’s familiar reading style simply doesn’t fit Cather’s book. His vocal mannerisms (repetitive cadences, breathiness, oddly placed emphases, etc.) dulls Cather’s prose from something that was unusual and innovative in her time to something far more pedestrian;  Guidall’s reading changes Cather’s subtle artfulness into something more like a cliché.
Another available reading is from Patrick Lawlor (Tantor Audio).  Perhaps some might enjoy Lawlor’s soft, reedy delivery, but it’s a bit much for me (too “po-et-tickle“);  not only that, I think I hear a bit of New York in Lawlor’s accent – which doesn’t bode well for his characterizations of Westerners.  Jim Killavey (Jimcin) exhibits the worst flaws of American readers and I find him deadly dull.
* Grover Gardiner does a good job with two of Faulkner’s most difficult books to read aloud, Absalom, Absalom and The Sound and the Fury.  The basic dryness of Gardiner’s voice and his understated delivery make Faulkner’s flights of verbal experimentation all the more powerful;  at times Gardniner reminds me of tapes I’ve heard with Faulkner himself reading excerpts from his books.

Readers for Wharton’s The Age of Innocence
Preliminary Recommedation
Posted 12 June 2018 – by Tom Looker

For our future reading of The Age of Innocence, I strongly recommend a wonderful British actor, David Horovitch (BBC Audiobooks), whom we’ve already heard read Anna Karenina. Horovitch’s American accents sound quite natural, as do his foreign voices. He narrates with skill and subtlety and evokes vivid characters.  I’d don’t find Horovitch’s British narration at all jarring, since much of Wharton’s story deals with (various kinds of) aristocrats, and, in the final analysis, Wharton’s themes are as much transatlantic as they are of New York.

I’ll say more about the other readers (there are a lot of them) in the future.


3 thoughts on “Forum

  1. Why I Joined the Classics Book Club…

    It seems to me that the very existence of the Jones Library Classics Book Club challenges the (depressing) assumptions behind the advertising copy below; the blurb is taken from the Recorded Books web page that sells audiobooks to libraries and educational institutions:

    Man of Property Cover

    The Forsyte Saga
    Publisher: Recorded Books, Inc.
    Narrator: Neil Hunt
    Released: May 20, 2016
    Description: The three novels that make up this trilogy have long been recognized as masterpieces of 20th-century literature, and Galsworthy as one of its leading exponents. But don’t let that be the reason you put off listening to this wonderful work. There are passion and lust in these pages, high art and low comedy, and unthinking violence that ride alongside ever-correct manners. Scandal, tragedy, despair, rape, accidental death, marriage, remarriage and a healthy leavening of births all unfold against a rolling backdrop of a world war.

    They forgot to mention the “cast of thousands.”

    … So do we struggle against the barbarians at the gates by the simple acts of reading, discussing, and enjoying classic literature.

    — Tom
  2. Katherine Mansfield: fragments of an introduction

    Seth has proposed that we might read some of Katherine Mansfield’s stories. As she’s not well-known, I thought I’d post on the Forum some quick sketches about who she was and why her stories are so well-regarded. She led an unusual and tempestuous life which adds to her fascination for some aficionados. — Tom

    “A certain melancholy has been brooding over me this fortnight. I date it from Katherine’s death. The feeling comes to me so often now – Yes. Go on writing of course: but into emptiness. There’s no competitor.” – Virginia Woolf (1923)

    Katherine Mansfield is New Zealand’s most internationally famous author. She was a writer of short stories, poetry, letters, journals and reviews, and changed the way the short story was written in the English language. She was a rebel and a modernist who lived her short life of 34 years to the full. Her life spanned a time when gender roles for women underwent a radical change. . . .

    Katherine Mansfield (born October 14, 1888, Wellington, New Zealand—died January 9, 1923, Gurdjieff Institute, near Fontainebleau, France), New Zealand-born English master of the short story, who evolved a distinctive prose style with many overtones of poetry. Her delicate stories, focused upon psychological conflicts, have an obliqueness of narration and a subtlety of observation that reveal the influence of Anton Chekhov. She, in turn, had much influence on the development of the short story as a form of literature.

    Excerpts from two essays in The New York Review of Books (links to full texts are at the page bottom):

    Gabrielle Annan reviews a biography by Claire Tomalin (1988)
    Katherine Mansfield’s contemporaries, including, though reluctantly, Virginia Woolf, agreed that she was brilliant. Woolf admired her besides for going “every sort of hog,” while she herself remained regretfully respectable. Perhaps the most remarkable thing about Mansfield is that she managed to construct for herself, a century or at least half a century too late, a classically Romantic career. Born in 1888 into a prosperous New Zealand family and educated for three years at Queen’s College, Harley Street, an enlightened London girls’ school, she rejected her background, comforts and all, to starve in a succession of European attics and unheatable cottages, to combine a hectic love life with dedication to her work, to make it into the literary and artistic avant-garde of her day, and to die, at thirty-four, of a mixture of tuberculosis and gonorrhea. Even Baudelaire could do no more. …… Tomalin [the writer of the reviewed book] analyzes a number of Mansfield’s works as she goes along. In the end her assessment boils down to admiring Mansfield’s gift for conveying mood and atmosphere in a manner she calls Post-Impressionist, presumably because of the fragmentation, but which could also be labeled Impressionist for its characteristically vivid way with light, texture, and movement. “The lack of stamina,” says Tomalin, “which prevented her from producing a novel encouraged other virtues: speed, economy, clarity. They became her hallmark, admired and imitated by later writers.”

    Claire Tomalin reviews a biography by Antony Alpers (1980)

    Nearly sixty years after her death, the name Katherine Mansfield still projects a sharp, strong presence. Not that Mansfield was her true name; it was one of several she made up. Her image too can be turned about; it changes, now vulnerable and wounded, now imperious and exacting, now the wild, ambitious colonial girl, now the simple seeker after purity and truth in art and life.

    It was said, by Leonard Woolf and others, that her face was like a mask. She was described as both pale and dark: first too fat and then too thin; elegant and not quite elegant. If she had genius, she lacked stamina, the sticking and staying power genius needs if it is to do more than flash erratically. Yet this was not for want of struggle—to make something new and perfect, to overcome disease, to keep her balance as a person and a writer in an awkward age and within a group of other gifted and difficult people.

    She was disliked, both as a person and as a writer; she was also revered as both. Not many took a position between these two attitudes, although some alternated, bewildered and fascinated. …

    It would be absurd to try to disconnect the life and the work. She herself was heartily dissatisfied with her own achievement at the end, and even her warmest admirers have to make what they can of the small quantity of first-rate Mansfield. She died at thirty-four and illness was destroying her steadily throughout most of her adult life, first undiagnosed and untreated gonorrhea and then tuberculosis. Poverty, or the fear of poverty, and an inability to settle in one place or let anyone settle her played their parts. Mr. Alpers points to her sense of insecurity—the cultural insecurity, he suggests, of the uprooted colonial—which he makes responsible for much of the “peculiar intimacy” of her tone. …

    … In her fiction too it is the rigidity, the consistency of each character’s isolation that gives the particular quality and stamp of Mansfield. In the early stories, such as “A Birthday,” “Germans at Meat,” “The Swing of the Pendulum,” “A Truthful Adventure,” and “An Indiscreet Journey,” the cold, sharp eye of the separate and defensive young woman observes her fellow men and women and finds them wanting. Beneath family complacency she divines cruelty and terror. Later Mansfield gave her characters a more inward sense of isolation; they see and enjoy and suffer the world but are pierced with the knowledge that, although they watch one another and exchange words, they do not share real joy or real desolation, which are experienced alone. This is the burden of her finest work: “The Daughters of the Late Colonel,” “The Man Without a Temperament,” “Her First Ball,” “The Garden Party,” and of course “The Aloe,” rewritten as “Prelude,” and its sequel “At the Bay.”

    Links to PDFs of two essays in The New York Review of Books
    Note: For some reason you will have to click twice to access the PDFs. One click takes you to an “entry” page, the next will load the PDF on your screen.

    I suggest that you read first Claire Tomalin’s 1980 review of a Mansfield biography written by Anthony Alpers. Tomalin is a bit more sympathetic to Mansfield’s life and work than is Gabrielle Annan, who, in 1988, wrote a review of Tomalin’s new biography of the writer. Annan treats Mansfield’s art (and her life) with more asperity than Tomalin and it’s possible that reading Annan’s review alone might put off some people from reading Mansfield. The reviews make a good pairing, though, because taken together they illustrate the wide-range of responses Katherine Mansfield continues to inspire.

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