I still have an old 1966 Compass Books edition (only $1.65) that was my mother's with her notes in the margins. This was one of my mother's favorite books and is in my father's top 10. It's set in Mexico and follows a drunk priest on the run from anti-catholic forces who want to erradicate the church. It is a dark adventure story with a wonderfully complex and flawed main character, and though a bit slow in the beginning, it's a beautiful book that gets even better with subsequent readings.
I always say that every woman should read this, because it speaks to the female experience so eloquently. I was disturbed to see several one star reviews of this around the web that say essentially "Spoiled woman gets bored with her life and commits suicide" because that's exactly the sort of superficiality that Edna wanted so badly to escape. She says, "The bird that would soar above the level plain of tradition and prejudice must have strong wings. It is a sad spectacle to see the weaklings bruised, exhausted, fluttering back to earth." She tries to be a "bird with strong wings" and her affair with another man gives her an understanding: "She felt as if a mist had been lifted from her eyes, enabling her to look upon and comprehend the significance of life, that monster made up of beauty and brutality." But tragically, she is not as strong as she needs to be in the end.
I've read this numerous times and I'm always fascinated by the idea that when people live in a "civilized society" and never develop any personal morality beyond external restraints how quickly they succumb to "the horror" of total lawlessness. I have trouble understanding why anyone would think Conrad is racist here - he seems to me to hold the african natives in the Congo in higher regard than the Europeans who try to bring their "light" into the darkness (the narrator mentions an image of a blindfolded woman with a candle to drive this point home). A must read.
The subtitle to this 19th century novel is "A Study of Provencial Life" and it really does go into the minutiae of ordinary lives which on the outset may sound kind of boring, but somehow Eliot manages to make us care so much about the characters that the narrative becomes excitingly suspenseful and incredibly moving. The main character, Dorothea, also struggles with adapting to the role that society has allotted her and is refreshingly aware of her failures but still tries to make the best of life.
An ordinary man attends his mother's funeral in Algeria, accidently murders a man, and is sentenced to death - none of which seems to emotionally impact him. The court judges this lack of emotion harshly and the reader sees the whole thing as absurd. This is an experiment in existentialism and is ingenious in its seeming simplicity. Not a comfortable book to be sure, but certainly profound. (And by the way, this is another book that I have in English and in German - read that discussion from Tuesday here).
What are some of your favorite classics?