#47: The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde by Robert Louis Stevenson (Katarina)

The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (1886) is a story that I knew long before I got around to reading the book. It revolves around the kind Dr. Jekyll and the mystery man Mr. Hyde, but told from the perspective of Jekyll’s lawyer Utterson, who is also an old friend. Utterson finds it strange that Jekyll has changed his will to benefit the stranger Hyde. He begins to investigate, but the answer is not one that is easy to believe.

The book deals with a split persona and of how it can be said that good and evil exists in us all. It has influenced many over the years and given inspiration to the superhero genre due to the double life of Jekyll/Hyde. So I guess we can thank Stevenson’s Gothic novel for Batman, Spider-Man, Superman etc. The parallel that I thought of was the creation of Poison Ivy in Batman. Not sure why, but something about the way that Jekyll experiments with himself reminds me of it.

In short, it is an interesting book, but I think I would much rather watch it played out on stage/film, because I think it is a story that offers a lot of room for adaptations (which it already has).

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#33. The Jungle Book by Rudyard Kipling (Catharina)

I had actually never read the whole story of this, only seen the cartoon movie as a child. It is actually a collection of several stories where the three about Mowgli are the most well known ones. I recognize Rikki-Tikki-Tavi though so I have certainly read it at some other point separately from the other stories. This is definitely a book that is supposed to teach children morals. The morals are generally about being brave, being loyal to your friends and family and being a fair and just person. The Law of the Jungle is a series of songs that tell everyone how to behave in the jungle for example. Kipling use animals that can speak in all of these stories, they are also often able to speak to humans (mostly children) and they are often very wise.

The stories are nice, fairly different even though the majority are located in the jungle (inspired by Kipling living in India for a time) there are a few told in different types of scenario’s. The White Seal for example is about a Northern Fur Seal and is mostly depicted in the ocean or on their seal beaches.

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#46: The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne (Katarina

Nathaniel Hawthorne’s The Scarlet Letter (1850) is a true classic, but since reading Ivanhoe, I have not been as bored as I was while reading this book. If you love this book, I am sorry, but it was such a snooze fest. And for someone who reads an hour on the train everyday, it took me a long time to get through this book because I kept falling asleep. Literally.

Now, there is a reason this book is a classic and still read (mostly by American high school students). The book deals with adultery and how women who had children outside marriage or with someone other than their husband were treated. They had to wear a scarlet A on their clothes at all times. The community shunned these women and their children, which made their lives very tough. And this is something that I think is an important issue to discuss after reading the book to get more out of the reading experience.

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#45: The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde (Katarina)

As I read The Picture of Dorian Gray (1891) for the third time, I found myself very annoyed with Dorian. Not so much for being led astray by Lord Henry as a teenager, but for the fact that he never really grows up. He s obsessed with his own looks and the superficiality of the world, which of course revolves around him.

What I really like about this book is the relationship between Dorian and his portrait. To see his faults depicted on the canvas makes them more evident to not just himself, but also to the reader. We get to see how the choices he makes in life has an impact on him.

Another interesting character in this book is Basil Hallward, the painter who sees his portrait of Dorian Gray as his masterpiece. He tries to bring out the good in Dorian and he is the one person who really loves him through thick and thin while Lord Henry only uses him as a plaything.

Oscar Wilde was an amazing writer and his work will live on for many more years to come. I will continue to assign this book to my students and hopefully some of them will appreciate it as much as I did when I read it the first time.

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#44: The Phantom of the Opera by Gaston Leroux (Katarina)

The Phantom of the Opera (1911) was yet another reading experience with a soundtrack. I could not help myself from humming along some of the tunes from Andrew Lloyd Webber’s musical adaptation. Leroux’s novel takes place in the opera where there are rumors of a phantom appearing here and there, meddling in the affairs of the managers. Things, however, are quite peaceful until he takes an interest in the Opera singer Christine. He coaches her to become a greater singer and in the end, kidnaps her in hopes of making her fall in love with him. It does not go as he had planned and when the phantom is unmasked, his true physical appearance frightens Christine. She manages to get a reprieve and turns to her childhood friend Raoul for advice, but they are spied on by the phantom and he kidnaps her once more. This time he gives her an ultimatum – marry me or I blow up the opera.

The novel is a warped love story and even though you cannot agree with the phantom’s methods, he is not left much choice. He hides his deformed face behind a mask and has never been loved, not even by his mother. It deals with how humans easily judged others based on their looks and how our personalities come second. The phantom wanted what we all want – to be loved – but he knew that he would scare off people before he had a chance to show his true self. So he hid in the depths of the earth and built himself a house by an underwater lake underneath the Opera. Here, he would be left alone, not that he wanted to. His attempt to get Christine to love him was born in those dark depths, and took on a shape and form that was not good, but had good intentions for himself. But just as he had been judged by others, the phantom tried to force love out of his hostage.

There is no wonder that the musical is one of the most popular in the world, because this story has it all. And now I am humming again…

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#32. Around the World in Eighty Days by Jules Verne (Catharina)

The only one of Jules Verne’s book that is not futuristic or in the genre of Science Fiction, still one of his most popular in the English translation versions. This book use only transportation tools that were already invented and apparently when it was first released people thought that it was a description of a journey that had happened for real. It is not the first book released on travelling around the world, the title is not even that original. The brilliance of this book lies in the adventurous spirit and the descriptions of the short descriptions of the areas they travel through. It is also interesting that Jules Verne chooses to use an English gentleman as the main character rather than a French one.

 

I like adventure books, they instill a sense of possibility and that there are loads of things to explore (without necessarily going there yourself). Jules Verne is as usual a wonderful descriptive author, both in character and describing scenes. Emotions are probably lacking a bit, but I think that is highly suitable, it would just detract from the adventurous spirit and considering the era it was published I do not believe it was that common to show emotions openly.

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#31. Inferno by August Strindberg (Catharina)

Inferno is an autobiographical novel about August Strindberg centered on the time he lived in France (originally it was written in French). There’s paranoid influence’s in it as he thinks he’s being followed constantly or that people he know are trying to steal his discoveries. Strindberg was obsessed with alchemy for a while but also dabbled in occultism as well as Swedenborgianism and this is what is covered in the book. Swedenborgianist’s follow the theological works of Emanuel Swedenbrog who claimed that he was able to freely visit heaven and hell with the guidance of God whenever he wanted to. These teaching at least in the book heighten the delusions and paranoia of the main characters.

 

This book is a bit “messy”, and I think it is to its advantage as it is depicting a person suffering from paranoia, delusions and neuroticism. I suppose it is a bit difficult to read because as a reader you want to really connect with the main character and normally you want a main character that is feeling ill to become better. I’m not sure this really happens in this book but rather the psychological illnesses just take different forms. It is probably more in line with what often happens in the real word though.

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