Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Reading the Classics

I remember reading once, I believe it was in These Happy Golden Years by Laura Ingalls Wilder, that when Laura was expecting one of her babies, I think her second, a son, she was given a hand-me-down box of Waverly novels.  She describes how reading them was only thing that enabled her to survive the first yucky months of her pregnancy.

Ever since reading this, I've been curious as to what Waverly novels were/are.  I've always imagined some candy-type reading from that era.

Because of the ease the internet has brought to historical research, I recently uncovered the answer to this oh-so-pressing mystery.   In the purest sense, the Waverly novels are those historical novels by Sir Walter Scott which were published anonymously, labeled as being by "the author of Waverly", Waverly being the first of his fiction books. He wrote under six various pseudonyms during this time of his early novels.

Sir Walter Scott (August 15,1771 –September 21, 1832) eventually claimed authorship, and also published additional books under his own name.  In a more general sense, all of Scott's books of historical fiction are also referred to as Waverly novels.

Scott's literary accomplishments were not limited to historical fiction.  He was a poet of original works, he anthologized volumes of poetry, and he translated a large volume of poetry from German.  He was involved in various historical and literary publishing enterprises.

With this new knowledge under my hat, I understandably had to request something by Sir Walter Scott from the library.  Scott's Ivanhoe has been on my "to read" list since reading Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm several years back.  Rebecca tells of being named after the character from her mother's favorite book, Ivanhoe.  But somehow, as with so many of the books on that ever increasing list of mine, I've not yet managed to read Ivanhoe.  Now that I know more about Scott's life and works, I decided to start at the beginning, with Waverly.

I started it today.

Definitely not candy reading.

The first chapter is all of three pages.  I couldn't get through a paragraph without continual rereading.  Finally, after my allotted two cups of "reading time coffee" were gone, I said, in tone of utmost exasperation, "Joe, I think I am too dumb to read Sir Walter Scott!"  It is not unusual for mothers of small children feel this way.  It's very frustrating to feel as though I have lost my powers of intellectual synthesis.  Keep in mind, I've felt this way the better part of the last 18 years.  

Since my reading time is my personal little reward and refreshment time, and since after the emotional onslaught of attempting to read this book I was most definitely NOT refreshed, I gave myself an extra few minutes.  I went into my room and closed my door.  I read without interruption (do you hear, without interruption) and guess what.  I am smarter than I thought.  The first chapter is a very wordy and somewhat meandering explanation of how Scott chose his title and subtitle.  But after I managed to get through that, the book started rolling.  I still am not completely involved.  The story line is beginning to tug at me. It might be a bit of a challenge to continue amid the usual household interruptions of my daily life.  But I will give it a few days' effort.  I can be very tenacious when I want and I guess, well, I do want.  I want to be able to read an author I've never read.  I want to be able to learn from the historical settings Scott is famous for.  I want to experience great literature.

And yes, I must admit, I want to compete with Laura.

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