English Classical Literature: favourite reading for a desert island.

Beautiful ... but lonely.
Beautiful ... but lonely. | Source

I must confess right now that the idea for this hub came from a reply I made to a comment by the excellent Jools99. I said 'Cider with Rosie' would definitely be a book I would want with me on a desert island and she pointed out that that would be a good subject for a hub.

So here it is, a hub on my choices for reading on a desert island, six books in all. Any more would be too cumbersome to transport around the island if I had to relocate to find food or water or avoid marauding animals.

Classic English Literature.

Another thing I feel I have to admit is that my favourite books are all English classics. So, no 'Catcher in the Rye', 'To Kill a Mockingbird' or 'For whom the Bell Tolls' for me, wonderful as those books are.

I would like to say I strove too for balance in that there are two fact, three fiction and one poetry book in this collection but I would be lying.

My choice is just the six books I love best, the ones I would rescue after the cat and the husband (in that order) if the house was burning down.

You may also notice that fact or fiction or poetry they all have something in common. They are, in the main, mostly about rural life in a bygone age. I make no apologies for this, they simply speak to my heart.

Cider with Rosie by Laurie Lee.

This, my favourite book of all time, was written by a somewhat mysterious man, Laurie Lee. I have written at length elsewhere on HubPages about this book and, as I mentioned above, it was the starting point for this hub.

It is the true story of a large and rumbustious family who lived in poverty in rural Gloucestershire in the 1920s, a sort of English version of the Waltons if you like.

Despite the hardships they still found a great deal of magic and enjoyment and Laurie remembers so clearly both the fun and the pathos of their lives.

His lyrical and often startling descriptions of the lives of the villagers in this English backwater, just as the world started on its path to irrevocable change, has the power to clearly evoke that more innocent world.

His writing about the halcyon days of his childhood is both nostalgic and humorous. It is also warm and witty and often dark but it is never judgmental. It is a lesson in how much we have lost and I, for one, mourn the passing of this simpler time.

I have chosen it for its power to transport me into another place and another time with its carelessly vivid prose.

Lark Rise to Candleford by Flora Thompson.

In a similar vein 'Larkrise ...' is also a semi-autobiographical memoir of a life of poverty and hardship. This time we are taken to the countryside of Oxfordshire.

Written by Flora Thompson and first published just before the outbreak of World War 2, ‘Larkrise ...’ details the harshness of English rural life in the 1880’s.

Flora was born in 1876 when life for country folk was hard and their very existence was often precarious. Having survived through infancy, no mean feat in itself at that time, she also managed to rise above the crippling condemnation of her teacher, who called her a 'dunce', to eventually become a writer.

In this book, which was originally a trilogy, her clear voice describes every aspect of this bucolic life without sentimentality and with great affection, both for this lost way of life and the characters she once knew.

I have chosen 'Larkrise ...' for its ability to take me back to the time of my grandmother, my role model, for whom the Victorian way of country life still extended, even up to my own idyllic childhood.

Tess of the D'Urbervilles by Thomas Hardy

I am not a natural heroine. Being marooned on a desert island would strike terror into my heart and no doubt there would be a lot of wailing and gnashing of teeth at my predicament however idyllic the surroundings.

I would need some sort of strengthening support from somewhere, hence my choice of the next book, Tess of the D'Urbervilles.

Hardy was very much concerned with what made women tick. Despite his appalling treatment of both his wives, he had a romanticised vision of womanhood and produced some striking heroines, of which I believe 'Tess' to be his best.

This work of fiction may in fact not be so far from truth as from being a small boy he listened avidly to the talk of grown-ups and must have mentally collected many tales of tragedy from his surroundings.

Although he was a Victorian novelist and poet his heroines were often regarded as somewhat outrageous in those times and 'Tess ...' is in fact the story of a 'fallen woman', as the Victorians would have termed it.

Initially, her story as a 'fallen woman' was felt to be too sympathetic to her and the book was refused for publication. The publishers, ever-mindful of their small-minded, puritanical public did not want to be associated with such a subject.

But to my mind 'Tess...' is the very embodiment of a heroine rising through naiveté and betrayal to become resourceful and self-reliant. Only the cruelty of an implacable Fate working through the weakness of man and the self-serving mentality of her widowed mother combine to engineer her ultimate destruction.

In the book Tess undertakes an epic walk to seek the parents of the husband who has abandoned her.

It is the memory of that walk pushed by that indomitable spirit that would sustain me as I trekked around my lonely island.

Cakes and Ale by W. Somerset Maugham.

This novel appeared in the 1930s and was Somerset Maugham's personal favourite of all his works.

It has a certain lightness of touch which seems indicative of the times and the subject again is an ostensibly disreputable woman. I wonder why I feel drawn to such women … you must draw your own conclusions.

It starts with the narrator being badgered by a would-be biographer to remember his connection to a great literary figure who is recently deceased. The author of the biography is writing on behalf of the great man's widow, the second wife, whose has hopes of rising high on her deceased husband's literary memory.

The only problem is how much the deliberately evasive narrator has to divulge about the apparently amoral first wife, the great man's true muse, the warm and large-hearted barmaid, Rosie.

One almost gets a feeling it is being written from memory … that the narrator is Maugham himself and that we are hearing his own way of thinking.

The unfolding story of the 'great man of literature' and Rosie and the tragic reason for her apparent defection is a moving revelation. Despite this Maugham imbues the book with a great deal of dry humour as well as taking a sharp stick to poke at the snobbishness of the society of the time.

It is a book whose subject I have never been able to forget and I would like to take it to keep me grounded, to help me remember what is real and what is merely society's puffery.

Why this should help me on a desert island I don't know, I only know that for me the writing is both clever and sublime.

Cold Comfort Farm by Stella Gibbons.

It had to come, the backlash against all my books on rural nostalgia and this book is it even though it too has a countryside setting. This time with a noticeable difference.

Although 'Cold Comfort Farm' was only published in the early 1930s it could not be more removed from the books of factual memoirs I have already chosen.

The book is a delicious, often malicious, lampoon of how the novelists of the time depicted country people.

The no-nonsense, and occasionally briskly repellant heroine, Flora Poste, finds herself at her Great-aunt Ada Doom's isolated, and half-derelict farm, in deepest Sussex.

It soon becomes obvious that Ada Doom and the rest of her outrageously dysfunctional farming family are all as mad as a bag of frogs.

What can Flora do but organise them and bring them kicking and screaming into the 'modern era' of the 1930s? A task which is not at all as straight-forward as it at first seems.

This novel parodies the style of many of the popular romantic, bodice-ripping novels of the time and even some of the literary greats such as Thomas Hardy and the Brontes do not escape Stella Gibbons' scrutiny and wit.

Even the Foreword to the copy that I own is amusing and may well be a spoof in itself.

I have loved this novel and its amusingly ludicrous characters for a very long time and I have chosen it to accompany me into exile to lift my spirits and make me smile when I am down.

A Shropshire Lad by A.E Houseman.

For my final choice I would select ‘A Shropshire Lad' by A.E. Houseman.

This is the only book of poetry I would take with me to my desert island and I do it for a very clear reason. It is simply some of the most accessible poetry I have ever read.

There is no opacity here, no striving to understand, no reading and re-reading in some doomed attempt to fathom it out.

Unsurprisingly 'A Shropshire Lad' is also about all the aspects of country life and is both unashamedly romantic and deeply melancholy. Despite being published in 1896 and mentioning plough teams (ploughing with heavy horses), Houseman's poetry still seems strikingly modern in its simplicity.

I have chosen this selection of poems so that as I relax for the evening beside my driftwood fire I will be inspired to think of 'those blue remembered hills', and the spires and farms of England.

Only then, I think, will I perhaps realise that

This is the land of lost content,

I see it shining plain,

The happy highways where I went

And cannot come again.

… and I will weep for the countryside I miss.

More by this Author


Comments 19 comments

diogenes profile image

diogenes 4 years ago from UK and Mexico

Interesting and thoughtful choices. Maugham was a casual friend of my mother.

I am a fan of Hardy's poetry, but less of his fiction, like Tess. Not Dickens then?

Yes, I tend to think Britain of the nineteenth century was more interesting as we approached the industrial revolution, or way back in the 16th with the Elizabethans, pirates and conquests...it is certainly a sad bore today.

Be nice on a desert island somewhere. I loved that movie with Bacon in it, the Castaway or something like that...and his pal, the football was it?

Bob


Feline Prophet profile image

Feline Prophet 4 years ago from India

Great way to spend time on a desert island! And may the marauding animals never find you! :)


Angie Jardine profile image

Angie Jardine 4 years ago from Cornwall, land of the eternally youthful mind ... Author

@ diogenes ... hi Bob ... thanks for the thoughtful comment.

I decided against Dickens as although I have enjoyed many of his books (a full set of Dickens novels was one of the first things I bought myself when I started work) and absolutely adore his characters they have never stayed in my mind and heart as much as these books have. The Brontes were closer but I think the angst in Jane Eyre or Wuthering Heights might have been overwhelming in my island solitude.

I think I would end up like Ben Gunn on a desert island ... mad and bearded. It might be nice for a few days, then the lack of interaction would send me mad. And I'm a person who likes my solitude. For me desert islands are over-rated, I can't even bear France when the villages close at midday for a siesta!

It was the wonderful Tom Hanks in Castaway ... and, you're right, that was a good film.

@FP ... many thanks for kindly stopping by to comment ... and the good wishes for my survival from marauding animals : )))


GoodLady profile image

GoodLady 4 years ago from Rome, Italy

What superb choices and such personal and beautiful reasons. I so enjoyed coming into your life here! Perhaps we could swap or something? I'm certainly going to go and order Tess of the D'Urberbevilles, it's ages since I read that book and I'm fascinated by heroines who are 'fallen women'.

Thanks so much


Angie Jardine profile image

Angie Jardine 4 years ago from Cornwall, land of the eternally youthful mind ... Author

How kind you are, GL ... but then you do own a B&B in Italy so your'e bound to be nice. :)

Take a look at my other hub on 'Tess ..' - she is of course one of my particular heroines and nothing to do with like attracting like at all. (Tongue firmly in cheek).


Little Nell profile image

Little Nell 4 years ago from Somerset, UK

A lovely choice of books, all favourites of mine too, and well worth re-reading - which I guess you would be having to do on your island! I am also a great fan of Hardy and work within a mile of Higher Bockhampton, where he was born, on the estate where his father worked and which he knew very well. "Under the Greenwood Tree" is my favourite, as I found Tess to be such a sad story.


Angie Jardine profile image

Angie Jardine 4 years ago from Cornwall, land of the eternally youthful mind ... Author

Hi Little Nell ... thanks for your input on this hub. Lucky you to work in such a beautiful part of Dorset.

I do love visiting Higher Bockhampton ... especially the walk through the woods behind his home.

Of Hardy's other books I prefer 'Far From the Madding Crowd', Gabriel Oak is my sort of man ... especially if he looks like Alan Bates as in the film!

The point is with Hardy that there is always some tragedy in his books because he took the stories from real life ... and sadly there is almost always some sort of tragedy in most people's lives.


MsDora profile image

MsDora 4 years ago from The Caribbean

It looks quite cozy there in your reading corner. Thanks for sharing these books with us. They all sound so interesting, especially the poetry, which I would like to read. Good choices!


Angie Jardine profile image

Angie Jardine 4 years ago from Cornwall, land of the eternally youthful mind ... Author

Many thanks, MsDora ... my reading corner is the only place to be on a winter's day.

When it's sunny I read underneath a sunshade in the garden ... bliss.

These are the books to read if you are a desperate romantic like me ... you must try them. Classics are never an easy read as their writing style is so different from today's. Despite this the stories still have the power, not just to move you, but to stay with you, possibly forever.

All the best ...


Jools99 profile image

Jools99 4 years ago from North-East UK

Angie, SO glad you did this hub and I don't often have the adjective 'excellent' associated with me so thanks for that :o). Great choices and we have similar tastes in some respects. I read Cold Comfort Farm just after reading Precious Bane by Mary Webb, which it was said to be a lampoon of? I thought it was a hoot but I still loved Precious Bane. I am reading Cider With Rosie on my Kindle at present (thanks for the recommendation hub!) and loving it, his prose is just gorgeous, I find myself rereading sentences just for the pleasure of the cadence of his words. Of Hardy's novels, I prefer Far From The Madding Crowd but none of his women come off well do they? My novels for a desert island would be a mix of old and new but I think I need many hours to think them over....great hub, really enjoyed it.


Angie Jardine profile image

Angie Jardine 4 years ago from Cornwall, land of the eternally youthful mind ... Author

Hiya Jools!

Thanks for this input - I will go and get Precious Bane toot sweet ... you've got me curious now.

I am so thrilled that you like Laurie Lee's prose ... it is spellbinding, isn't it?

Hardy's heroines are usually undone by their actions, aren't they? Despite this I always feel that Hardy is on their side and that he really wanted to show how women suffered in his Victorian society. Not that he was a very nice man to be married to!

Typical Victorian double standards, of course.


CBartelmey profile image

CBartelmey 4 years ago from Colorado, United States

Glad I came across this, I actually was considering writing a Hub about the 10 best books I have ever read, somewhat similar. My top pick - Gone with the Wind. After reading that there has never been anything I wanted to do more than write. I enjoy your writing style and will have to read more of your Hubs, as well as some of your island picks as I confess I am unfamiliar with all of them.


Angie Jardine profile image

Angie Jardine 4 years ago from Cornwall, land of the eternally youthful mind ... Author

Hi CBartelmey ... many thanks for stopping by to comment on this hub.

I think all of us who are serious readers should write such a hub. This way many of us would get to share ideas about the books we love. But it is a difficult thing to judge.

The difficult thing is in making sure you write about books that have changed your way of thinking or in some way haunt you long after they have been read.

Of course I have read many, many books over my fairly long lifetime so far. I have read, and continue to read, both literature and light novels, from War and Peace to Noddy goes to Toyland but the books above are just a few of the ones that have stayed in my consciousness and will not let go of my mind. And there are many more ...


Paul Golding profile image

Paul Golding 3 years ago

A good listing, I especially like Cider with Rosie as I live in the valley where it was written and set. Unfortunately developers are currently planning on building a new housing estate here. If you or any of your followers would like to help prevent this by objecting to the plans all the information can be found here: www.savesladvalley.org.uk Please help us to preserve this famous, beautiful and peaceful piece of countryside.


Angie Jardine profile image

Angie Jardine 3 years ago from Cornwall, land of the eternally youthful mind ... Author

Ooo, Paul … you live in the Slad valley! I am desperately jealous and horror stricken to think that you are under siege by developers.

I know exactly what that is like as we suffer with them drowning beautiful valleys under concrete too. Residents are always fighting battles to stop them.

Developers have no excuse - there are many in town brown field sites and derelict properties that need re-developing.

I will check out the savesladvalley site immediately and add my voice to all those objecting.

With very best wishes ...


Paul Golding profile image

Paul Golding 3 years ago

Thanks for that. I just get SO frustrated with it. There is a second similar battle going on in Stroud to protect the Rodborough Fields, meanwhile there are two big brown field sites that locals are crying out to be redeveloped to improve the town. The developers openly admit that they only want green field sites to maximise profits - so depressing!


Angie Jardine profile image

Angie Jardine 3 years ago from Cornwall, land of the eternally youthful mind ... Author

I have sent an email off to planning at stroud.gov.uk pointing out that such a rape of this beautiful valley would not just be flouting our green field/AONB laws but would also be creating a precedent.

This would mean none of our green areas would be safe as developers would all be able to cite Slad valley as a precedent if the development went ahead.

I cannot believe that Rodborough is also struggling, the whole area is one I know well and love. I hate greedy developers with a passion and the only thing that can stop them is people power. If there is constant, noisy opposition that delays them time after time you may stand a chance.

If they get their plan approved there must be an appeal by the residents but it is a long and wearing process. However it is vital the residents do not blink first or the green fields of England will disappear beneath concrete forever.

Good luck … and bless you.


thebestseo profile image

thebestseo 3 years ago from Kathmandnu, Nepal

Thank for sharing this interesting post. i love this post.


Angie Jardine profile image

Angie Jardine 3 years ago from Cornwall, land of the eternally youthful mind ... Author

Thank you for taking the time to leave such a kind comment.

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