Posted by: billpurdue | September 10, 2010

Reading the classics

For nine years during the 1970s, I worked for Coventry City Libraries,( now Coventry Libraries and Information Services). For a small part of that time, I spent periods in the Local History section, a small room, about the size of a living room in a small house, where the shelves were lined with plain looking books – plain, as many of them had been rebound with plain covers to keep them in good condition. For a city the size of Coventry, it seemed a rather small local history department.

Included in this collection of books, documents and illustrations relating to the local area was a substantial section devoted to George Eliot. Even though she (her real name was Mary Anne Evans) was born near Nuneaton, a few miles further north, Coventry saw fit to collect what it could about this novelist. I had no idea what Warwickshire County Libraries had on George Eliot and whether there was any co-operation between the two systems. Today Warwickshire Libraries devotes a section of its website to George Eliot, whilst Coventry Libraries appears to have nothing on local history on its website at all.

George Eliot

What I’m getting round to saying is that I’ve just read one of George Eliot’s novels (not having read one of her works before, I’m ashamed to say), which reminded me of my days cooped up in the little room doing some tedious cataloguing or something similar. The novel is Mill on the Floss [available in various editions, the cheapest of which is published by Wordsworth for £1.99 978-1853260742] which my father told me about many years ago.

Plot summaries of the novel are easily available – such as the one on the Sparknotes website, so I thought I would comment on what it’s like to read one of the “classics”, when you are normally used to 20th and 21st Century novels. Well, you do need to make some adjustments, such as getting used to some of the archaic language and sentence construction. Eliot uses some words in slightly different ways in which we use them today and some expressions which I didn’t immediately understand.

It’s a glimpse into the days when family, social status and honour were much more important, not to mention how people might think of you after you’ve departed this life. There are several melodramatic passages, but it works its way up to a dramatic and quite unexpected ending. Of course it’s well worth the effort, otherwise it wouldn’t have become such a well known classic and would not have been dramatised for TV.

Just Out

Life Along the Line: A Nostalgic Celebration of Railways and Railway People by Paul Atterbury [David and Charles, £25 978-0715336281]  concentrates on the human experience of the railways – the drivers, firemen, guards, station staff, signalmen, engineers, caterers and, of course, passengers.

Remember The Day of the Jackal back in 1971 ? Well, Frederick Forsyth hasn’t stopped writing. His latest (the first since 2006) is The Cobra [Bantam £18.99 978-0593064214]. It’s a little different from his earlier novels. The Cobra is the nickname of the retired CIA operative who is entrusted a task by the US president to destroy the drug cartels of the world, with no holds barred.



  1. Some friends and I are reading a few Shakespeare plays together and we just finished MacBeth. Tabitha Classics

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