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The novel tells the story of Tess whose fate is changed when her ne'er-do-well father tries to improve the family fortune via a misguided association with a local well to do family. Hardy's writing produces such empathy for Tess that one is compelled to continue reading even though it is unbearable to imagine where the story will go.
When first published in 1899 the work received a mixed critical reception; praise for its outstanding writing style and condemnation for it's frank presentation of the limits of a woman's role and its sexual openness. At the time the book only had one printing. After it's rediscovery in 1969 the book has been praised for its treatment of issues facing women and its wonderful style.
The Bleak House is Dickens' satire of a decaying society. Its story draws together a group of disparate people through the interminable suit of Jarndyce vs Jarndyce at the Court of Chancery. Often described as a savage, though also comic, critique of Victorian society.
The Golden Ass relates the ludicrous adventures of Lucius, a virile young man obsessed with magic. In his enthusiasm to see the use of magic he is accidentally transformed into an ass and thus forced to witness and experience the lives of slaves and the destitute. This is the only surviving work of Greco-Roman literature to give a first person perspective of the abhorrent condition of the lower classes. T. E. Lawrence carried a small copy of the book in his saddlebags throughout the Arab Revolt.
Another classic Dickens satire, this time at the expense of America where he had recently travelled (see Dickens' "American Notes"). This is the story of the Chuzzlewits - plenty of cunning, intrigue, greed and bucket loads of selfishness embellish this brilliant story not to mention a dose or two of moral appreciation.
The novel explores the three different loves Maggie Tulliver feels for the three men in her life - her father, her brother, and her special friend Philip Wakem. As the story moves to a dramatic conclusion, the gifted and independent Maggie is challenged by circumstance and tensions both within the family and between her family and the Wakems.
Generally regarded as the masterpiece of his early writing The Portrait of a Lady has young American Isabel inheriting a large amount of money and gaining freedom to travel the continent. Here she falls under the influence of two expatriate Americans who want her money. The work has met continuing critical acclaim and remains the most popular of James' longer works.
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