Bahnreads Overseas: Literary Sights

I recently traveled from the West Coast overseas to London, Dublin, and Italy. I already blogged about my favorite bookshops I found while traveling. I also visited and/or discovered a few literature-related spots, some of them by accident because I am not as good at planning as I like to pretend. Read on for my favorite literary sites that we visited.

The Jane Austen Centre (Bath, England)

Is it touristy? Yes. Is it gimmicky? Yes. Is it a ton of fun? ALSO YES.

What first struck me at the Jane Austen Centre was the sincere enthusiasm of everyone who worked there. The young woman calling herself Louisa Musgrove gave a practiced monologue on Jane Austen’s family, but she made it interesting enough and got some laughs, and she handed us off to Lady Catherine De Burg who told us about the different portraits of Jane Austen and the arguments over their authenticity. Everyone else we interacted with, whether it was the costumed gentlemen at the door or the cashier in the gift shop seemed knowledgeable and honestly glad to be there.

The Centre itself was full of both contemporary Austen artifacts and reproduced versions. Besides the information displays and museum exhibits, there were some interactive areas where you could try on costumes, practice writing with a quill, and play contemporary tabletop games.

Check out my photos below for some examples of the displays and costumes.


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The Book of Kells and Long Library Exhibit (Trinity College, Dublin)

On our first full day in Dublin, we took a tram (because Trams Are Best) to the Trinity College campus. First of all, gorgeous campus, what is this, ridiculous, so beautiful. Second of all, they have the Book of Kells at their library so we visited that. Unfortunately, they don’t let you take pictures of the old books in the exhibit. But trust me when I tell you, WOW ILLUMINATED BOOKS, THEY ARE GORGEOUS AND BEST. The level of detail and the bright colors and gold were incredible. The pages we saw were the genealogy of Jesus and a section from the Gospel of John. You can see some official photos here.

We were able to see the Long Room in the same library building. It’s the perfect library aesthetic with a longgggggg room (imagine that) with fabulous-looking arches, as well as a bust or fifty of famous writers. You can check out my photos below.

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Via Dante Alighieri (Florence, Italy)


There are quite a few Dante-related sites in Florence, Italy, which you can read about here on Walkabout. Our time was very limited there, although we did, of course, see the Duomo. I spotted this street named after Dante and snapped a photo. It’s really fun going to cities where these famous writers lived and worked, and imagine them as they were.


Jonathan Swift’s tomb (St. Patrick’s Cathedral)

While in Dublin we visited St. Patrick’s Cathedral. I had no idea that Jonathan Swift’s tomb was there! I really need to brush up on my author history because Jonathan Swift was Dean there for 32 years. If you visit the Cathedral, which is beautiful in its own right, you can see artifacts such as Swift’s pulpit. Swift wrote his own epitaph, because of course he did. The epitaph marks Swift’s grave and is in Latin, but the translation is:

Here lies the body of Jonathan Swift, Doctor of Divinity and Dean of this Cathedral,
Where savage indignation can no longer lacerate his heart;
Go traveller and imitate if you can, this dedicated and earnest champion of liberty
He died on the 19th October 1745, aged 78 years

Check out my photos below.

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Overall I had an amazing time exploring, especially when we found places and sites we didn’t always know were there.

Top 10 Tuesday: Summer Beach Reads

Today’s theme was a “Summer Freebie,” intended to help us recommend books for summer vacation, on the beach, or whatever. Personally I don’t think my reading increases during the summer, and I don’t think I understand the term beach read, but hey! Freebie! Gonna do what I want!

And what I want is: classics.

I love classics. Sure, a lot of them are boring. Sure, a lot of them are real downers. Sure, a lot of them use weird techniques like stream-of-consciousness so you don’t know which way is up much less which character is doing what.

But all of them are significant in some way, and more importantly, a lot of them are just plain entertaining, good books. “Some of my favorite books are classics!” she protests while clutching her totebag.

Here are my top 10 recommendations for summer reading. I tried to pick short-ish ones so no Crime and Punishment and no Middlemarch.
  • Sherlock Holmes by Arthur Conan Doyle: Detectives! Crime! Occasional murder!
  • The Europeans by Henry James: Romance! Snobby relatives! Summer?
  • Cold Comfort Farm by Stella Gibbons: Woodsheds! Reform! Romance?
  • Another Country by James Baldwin: James! Effing! Baldwin!
  • Treasure Island by Robert Louis Stevenson: Pirates! Treasure! ISLAND!
  • Kim by Rudyard Kipling: Spies! India! SPIES?
  • The Blue Castle by L.M. Montgomery: Found family! Romance? Nature!!!
  • Hamlet by Shakespeare: Ghosts! Murder! Duels!
  • Beowulf: Monsters! Mayhem! Madness!
  • Persuasion by Jane Austen: Love! Friendship! Persuasion???


Top 10 Tuesday is hosted by The Broke and The Bookish.

Top 10 Tuesday: [Dead] Authors I Would Like To Meet

If given the chance, I’d like to take the following authors out for a cup (or five) of coffee:

  1. Diana Wynne Jones. Filed under: Coulda, Shoulda, Woulda
  2. J.R.R. Tolkien. Filed under: I Have Prepared A List of Questions Do You Have a Few Hours To Spare?
  3. The Brontes. Filed under: Any Of Them
  4. Henry James. Filed under: Are You Single (Asking For a Friend)
  5. Edith Wharton. Filed under: Marry Me
  6. Mary Shelley. Filed under: Bring Percy and Byron and Keats and We Can Have An Orgy
  7. Rosemary Sutcliff. Filed under: Mess Me Up My Dear Rosemary
  8. Christopher Marlowe. Filed under: Just Don’t Tell Will
  9. Mary Renault. Filed under: I Want To See Your Head Explode When I Call Alexander The Great a Genocidal Megalomaniac
  10. Dorothy Sayers. Filed under: Dorothy Deserved Better 2017

Top 10 Tuesday is hosted by The Broke and The Bookish.

REVIEW: Great Short Stories by American Women, ed. Candace Ward

36397“Life in the Iron-Mills” by Rebecca Harding-Davis:
On the one hand, I loathe this story because it is so bleak, but on the other hand, this story is not only one of the best examples of Realism and industrialism in American literature, but it also has a lot to say about the nature of art, the nature of artists, and where and how art comes from, and also manages to cover the Nature of Humanity 101.

“Transcendental Wild Oats” by Louisa May Alcott:
I feel like the audience’s reaction was probably “HAHA THIS IS HILARIOUS LOOK AT THESE DUMB HIPPIES” but Alcott was like “No seriously this is way too real and needs to stop.” Sister Hope for the Iron Throne?

“A White Heron” by Sarah Orne Jewett:
I want to eat Jewett’s words right up. This story is surprisingly magical but in a “Let’s hunt magic down and kill it” sort of way.

“A New England Nun” by Mary E. Wilkins Freeman:
This is an odd one, about how promises can become cages and the things we think are cages are actually freedoms. I don’t know. I can never decide if I feel bad for Louisa or envious of her.

“The Yellow Wall-Paper” by Charlotte Perkins Gilman:
I had to read this one for school several times but it was never a chore. This story is terrifying in a quiet, escalating way. I love the juxtaposition between the freedom the character feels at the end and the fact that she’s more trapped than ever before. Perfect.

“The Storm” by Kate Chopin:
Oh, Kate. I can always count on you for socially heretical sexy adventures in a rainstorm.

“The Angel at the Grave” by Edith Wharton:
Another story where I’m not sure if we’re supposed to feel hopeful or not at the ending. Lots of sacrifice on the protagonist’s part ends with ambiguous pay-off. Or was she really sacrificing anything? I CAN’T DECIDE.

“Paul’s Case” by Willa Cather:
Paul takes the line “All the world’s a stage, and all the men and women in it merely players” a little TOO SERIOUSLY. I love how it both upholds and condemns the maxim “Money can’t buy happiness.”

“The Stones of the Village” by Alice Dunbar-Nelson:
A story about passing for what you are not and getting some of what you want but never WHAT YOU NEED.

“A Jury of Her Peers” by Susan Glaspell:
One of my favorite short stories of all time. A man has died and while the male officials investigate, their wives discuss the matter. FLAWLESS. PERFECT. Please read it.

“Smoke” by Djuna Barnes:
I didn’t really get it but I expect that’s my own fault and not the story’s.

“Sweat” by Zora Neale Hurston:
I really struggle with reading dialects, but this was a good suspenseful story with a twist and some really good images. Bad marriages and bad snakes. SNAKES, MAN.

“Sanctuary” by Nella Larsen:
This story gave me chills all over my body. Sometimes you think you’re safe and you realize you’ve picked the absolute worst place to hide ever. This was definitely one of my favorites.

A Few Words on LES MISERABLES by Victor Hugo

I do not understand how such a bloated, heavy-handed, patriarchal monstrosity has lasted so long in the literary canon.

Every good bit of this novel was overshadowed by the preceding and following pages of redundant preaching and context.

I’m supposed to write 500 words on this novel but I’m going on strike to raise awareness of its absurd length.



Wide Sargasso Sea by Jean Rhys

“If I was bound for hell, let it be hell. No more false heavens. No more damned magic. You hate me and I hate you. We’ll see who hates best. But first, first I will destroy your hatred. Now. My hate is colder, stronger, and you’ll have no hate to warm yourself. You will have nothing.”

Wide Sargasso Sea by Jean Rhys

Wide Sargossa Sea Image

I sat down to read a chapter of this book and wound up reading the entirety in one sitting. I do not do that often, and even less frequently with works of literature. It’s short, beautifully written and characterized, and has a wonderful flow and pacing. There’s a whole pile of things I could focus on in it.

What I was most surprised by, though, is how much it parallels current fanfiction tropes and structure. We don’t have to argue over whether this book is fanfiction, right? Sure, it’s a feminist deconstruction of Jane Eyre, and the author is clearly trying to deal with some of the more problematic elements of that novel (most especially the misogynistic bits and characters), but there’s still a definite undertone of affection for the source material.

Let’s go over some of the basics of a good fanfic that Wide Sargasso Sea possesses:
1. Angst: Boy howdy does this book revel in the angst. Between Antoinette and Rochester, who both equally feel themselves victimized by the world, we’re pretty much swimming in deep angry hate-fire and sadness and self-loathing. I would argue that Antoinette’s is much more justified than Rochester’s, but that’s obvious, right?
2. Exploration of a relationship from the source material: In this case, a canon relationship, although fanfic is usually a made-up, or “fanon,” ship. We only get the essentials of Rochester and Antoinette’s relationship in Jane Eyre (she was hot and rich and he was dumb and young and they got married and then hated each other), but this novel explores much more deeply their feelings for each other (which are very strong even when they’re not love), how they treat each other and manipulate each other and try to control the other. IT’S REALLY FASCINATING AND I LOVE IT.
3. Expanding on backstory for canonical characters: See also above. But learning about Antoinette’s family history (especially in regards to slavery and the culture clashes on the island) and especially about her mother brought a whole new level to Jane Eyre. Antoinette’s mom’s story actually made me more upset than Antoinette’s, and that’s saying something. I had a lot of feels.
4. Gives you feels: See 1-3.
5. Ignores the primary, heterosexual relationship of the source material: This book doesn’t care a whit for Jane. Granted, Jane is present only in tiny bits of this book, but she isn’t even treated as a real obstacle for Antoinette. Rochester is her enemy, and Jane’s experiences are trivial.
6. Populates background with supporting Original Characters: SEE: Christophine, who is wonderful and scary and absorbing and I could write a whole book about her. [Side note: Christophine functions in the novel as a critical fan of Jane Eyre, both the book and the character. She tries to fix the narrative and Antoinette’s fate even while participating in it.]
7. Critiques the original characters/source material while still showing their good parts and highlighting why they’ve lasted: See above points about Jane and Jane Eyre. Wide Sargasso Sea is more diversely-casted and gives more agency to its female characters, even while making the original characters like Jane, Rochester, and “Bertha” even more complex, while pointing back to their fundamental traits and the core story that has captivated readers for so long.

Review: NORTH AND SOUTH by Elizabeth Gaskell

512710North and South by Elizabeth Gaskell (a contemporary of Charles Dickens) is set in Victorian England, and focuses on the huge changes that industrialization had brought to the country, highlighted by the social clashes between the tradesmen who are becoming rich and powerful, and the “old money” gentility. The story is told through three families, the Thorntons (southern tradesmen, the Hales (northern gentility), and the Higginses (southern working class). Margaret Hale, our bold heroine protagonist, moves to Milton, a northern industrial town, with her father, a dissenting clergyman, and her mother. There, she is initially repulsed by the different way of living all around her, and especially by the owners of the various mills and factories, exemplified by Mr. Thornton. She also befriends the Higginses, who work in the mills and give her first-hand accounts of how horrible it can be to work there.
That’s the stage, in a nutshell, but there is a LOT going on in this novel, both on a basic plot level and on a thematic level. The Hales are struggling to adjust to their new life, the Thorntons are struggling with their business and a union strike, the Higginses are involved with the strike, pretty much everyone gets sick at some point, and there’s a mystery involving Margaret’s brother Frederick. There may or may not be a romantic plot as well. ALL of the individuals clash with each other, usually because of misunderstandings because they’re all REALLY defensive toward their own way of life. There are frequent arguments and collisions between the North and South, the rich and poor, the educated and non-educated, and the pride of one character and another.


I enjoyed this novel, for the most part. It was very intelligent in the way that all angles of everything were thought out or developed. The different characters were all very well-rounded and the way they constantly misunderstood one another was hilarious, because the writing is thorough enough that the reader understands everyone but none of the characters understand each other. The strike was the most interesting for me of the many plots going on, because it showed all of the issues at stake so clearly. I REALLY loved Margaret. She’s very conscientious of how she behaves, so often other people don’t understand the amount of FEELS she is having because she’s trying to deal with her problems or not burden other people. This makes her come across as haughty and proud very often, when sometimes she’s just shy or feeling sad and covering it up. But she’s very bold and brave when it matters, and she takes care of her family through some really difficult times. Go Marg.

My main complaint is one of pacing. There were several sections that moved very slowly, mostly because a couple of characters would get bogged down in arguing about something, such as the strike, again. I kept willing external events to happen to the characters so that they would have to DEAL with them rather than talk about them. This could also make it feel like the author was just setting up these characters and this situation so she could talk about “Real Issues.”

Overall, I recommend it if you are interested in this time period or enjoy complicated romantic dramas. It’s worth the work.