Tag Archives: 19th century

For the term of his natural life

Marcus Clarke

This really is a ripping yarn. A tale of convict Australia, and the harsh prisons of Port Macquarie, Port Arthur, and Norfolk Island. It follows the story of “Rufus Dawes”, a man wrongly convicted for murder and transported to Australia.

Interestingly we only see brief glimpses of Dawes for about the first third of the novel. What we do see are mutinies, crime, punishment, heroism, love, and the very harsh landscape of the penal colonies of Tasmania.

Clarke draws well rounded characters. He shows human nature at its best and worst. Not all convicts are bad, but some of them are very nasty. Whatever the nature of the convict, you have got to feel appalled at their treatment and condition at Port Arthur and Norfolk Island.

The authorities are completely sure they are right. The gaolers would be tried war crimes in different times.

This novel was first published in serial form from 1870 to 1872. For me, interestingly from me, this novel was written only about 20 years after the closure of the penal colony of Port Arthur. It was popular at the time, which tells me that society had changed … or the make up of that society as the prisoners gained their freedom and the injustices of the justice system had come to light.

It was a rollicking read. One of its time, so it’s not hard to read but it is long and uses the language of the day. I did find it quite depressing because of what continuously happens Dawes. There seem to be no breaks, and not everybody gets their comeuppance.

I have read some literary articles about this novel, but they were focused on theses and I really just wanted to talk about the yarn.

Feel free to disagree.


Moby Dick, part 1

By Herman Melville

Life is too short to read Moby Dick.   It started so well, “Call me Ishmael”, and was intriguing, and seemed to be well written and easy to read.  I wondered why Melville hadn’t been popular in his day, and thought perhaps he was just ahead of his time.   And then he digressed.   A lot.   The narrative wanders off to explain things to the reader that really don’t need to be explained.   Groan.   It was my train read, and I was finding it a total chore so I set it free for a while.

In the words of the publishers of my Wordsworth edition:

This book is written in an extraordinary variety of styles, from sailors’ slang to biblical prophesy and Shakespearian rant (back cover).

Just a rant full stop.   It is a pity, because it has those elements that I love: 19th century sailing books, the sea, and survival.

So, the plot so far.   Ishmael, the narrator, goes to sea on a Nantucket whaler.   The Captain, Ahab, is obsessed with finding the white whale, Moby Dick.

I will finish it.   Someday.   I haven’t come across a book in a while that I found such a chore.   Here the Wikipedia entry – I know, I should have looked further afield, but this is a pretty full entry, and you can follow the links and read more.

Feel free to disagree.

Northanger Abby

By Jane Austin

A comfort read for me.   I have read this novel many times, and I think it must be one of my favourite Austin novels.   Henry Tilney is certainly my favourite Austin heroes.   He just comes off as a completely lovely bloke, without being a sap.   He is intelligent, witty and warm.   And Catherine Morland, our heroine, may be young and naive, but she is completely lovely.   Catherine is unpretentious and trusting, but she does learn from her mistakes.

Young Catherine is taken to Bath with family friends, the Allen’s.   It is here she meets Henry Tilney, and his family.   It is also where she meets the Thorp family, friends of her brother.   Shr quickly becomes friends with the eldest Miss Thorp, Isabella, who shares Catherine’s obsession with gothic novels.   We follow Catherine’s hilarious passage through bath society, and she discovers things are not always what they seem, and comes to realize what true heroic behaviour is.    Catherine is then invited to visit Northanger Abby, home of the Tilney’s, and by all accounts, a place that sounds like it has come straight out of a novel by Mrs Radcliffe.

Andrew Davies made a wonderful adaption, staring Felicity Jones as Catherine Morland, and Carey Mulligan as Isabella Thorp.