Recently I've come across to the Little Black Classics by Penguin. Among the available titles are some written by my favourite authors, like Jane Austen and D.H. Lawrence. When I first saw them I knew I had to read them, so here is what I thought on three of those books.
The Beautiful Cassandra by Jane Austen
The Little Black Classic #33 was the first of the titles in the series that I had to find, no matter what. As you already know, I am a big Jane Austen fan and the prospect of reading some of her earlier works was appealing to me. In this edition, six of her juvenile short stories are included, all selected from Love and Friendship and Other Youthful Writings.
It was exciting to read these stories because they are pure joy. They were written by young Jane for the sole purpose to entertain herself and her family. Indeed, they were all joyful and pleasant. To those familiar with Austen's novels, her wit and her humour will be apparent. The quality of the writing is not the same as in her later works, but one can clearly distinguish the potential she had and the evolution she went throughout the years. For this reason, The Beautiful Cassandra is a must-read, especially for the fans of the celebrated author.
The stories I liked the best were Jack and Alice and Henry and Eliza.
The Old Nurse's Story by Elizabeth Gaskell
Another Little Black Classic I was eager to read was #39. Elizabeth Gaskell, with novels such as North and South and Cranford, became quickly one of my favourite authors of all time. But, until now, I hadn't read any of her gothic tales before. This edition includes two of them, The Old Nurse's Story and Curious, if True. The first was published in Charles Dickens' magazine, Household Worlds, in 1852 and the second one was published in William Thackeray's Cornhill Magazine in 1860.
In both of those stories, Gaskell proves of how nicely she can write. The Old Nurse's Story is a ghost tale. The atmosphere it builds is magnificent. You come to care about little Miss Rosamond and until the end you are anxious to find out if the nurse was able to protect her from the ghostly child. Curious, if True is an equally eerie story. A man comes upon a strange party while lost in the woods, where fairy tale characters have gathered. But this isn't obvious from the beginning and as the hints become more frequent, the amazement is great. I would say that it did have an Alice's Adventures in Wonderland feel to it.
The Eve of St Agnes by John Keats
The Little Black Classic #13 is a title full of poetry. In this book, five poems by John Keats are to found. The two larger poems are The Eve of St Agnes and Lamia while the three short ones are La Belle Dame san Merci, Ode to Psyche and Ode to a Grecian Urn. Keats' poetry is more visual and narrative and these poems are great examples of this.
The Eve of St Agnes is based on the superstition that a virgin will see in her dream her future husband if she follows some ritual that specific night. La Belle Dame sans Merci is a ballad that talks about love and death. Lamia is a narrative poem, that has its roots to some ancient Greek myths. The two odes that close this edition are Keats' experimentation in the ode genre. The first ode deals with Psyche's and Cupid's myth while the second one has as a theme the art and the art audience.
The poems I enjoyed the most were The Eve of St Agnes and La Belle Dame san Merci.