Great Books of the World 24

KINDNESS

is more than deeds.
It is an attitude,
an expression, a look, a touch.
It is anything that lifts another person.

Plato

 

The books reviewed today could all be described as works on kindness, the greatest of virtues, all others stem from there. Two of the great writers were helped by the kindness of others, and all wrote about kindness as a deciding factor in achieving success in life. They are role models for all of us, don’t you agree?

 

CHARLES  DICKENS
1812  –  1870

It is acknowledged that Dickens was the greatest English writer, the most ingenious one, in a class of his own. His books seem not to have been plotted by the writer but traversed with his gift of observation and inspiration, as physically present and psychologically unfathomable as possible to engage his genius. He leads his reader down murky alleyways, missleading avenues, often strange and vivid, a world of dreamscape, so compelling that it isn’t easy to put it down. In one of his books, the heroine is already dead, but as the story was first published in instalments, in New Year’s harbour crowds gathered awaiting the arrival of the ship, and calling anxiously to the crew, “Is Little Nell still alive?”

Little Nell and her grandfather from “The Old Curiosity Shop”

When we open one of his formidable tomes, the sense of excitement and expectation, of dynamism and pulsating reality, is overwhelming. His stories are ultimately about the fate of the hero but are more truly dependent upon discovering, one step at a time, the destination of his journey.  Dickens’ “biographical” approach to writing is a reason why his supporting characters, who contribute so much to the pleasure of reading his stories, are so boldly drawn and might be described not as beings but as experiences. All of which provide the enduring popularity of all his books. Several have been adapted for film and television.

David Copperfield and Mr Micawber

David Copperfield

“Of all my books, I like this the best”
Charles Dickens

“Whether I shall turn out to be the hero of my own life, or whether that station will be held by anybody else, these pages must show.”

This is how this wonderful story begins, a novel so filled with character, inventions, suspense, and inspired retelling that one finishes it with overwhelming regret. The turning of the last page closes the book on such a world that one immediately feels impoverished. This book is my favourite too.

David Copperfield and Peggotty

Dickens famously called Copperfield the “favourite child” of all his literary legacy, and its autobiographical frame goes some way towards explaining why. The eighth of his novels to be written, it is the first one to be narrated in the first person, and, from the opening words, the direct address of the protagonist is captivating. The coming-of-age tale that David relates has many points of contact with Dickens’ own experiences as the son of a debtor, as an adolescent employee in a factory, as a parliamentary reporter, and, lastly, as a successful novelist.

Mr Dick, David Copperfield and Betsey Trotwood

The book is crammed with enough memorable characters to sustain the careers of half a dozen storytellers. The cast includes – to mention only a few  –  David’s imperious aunt, Betsey Trotwood, who comes to his rescue with an asperity as sharp as her magnanimity is deep; Aunt Betsey’s simple-minded protege and muse, Mr Dick; the improvident, incorrigibly optimistic, and unabashedly grandiloquent Mr Micawber; the charming, caddish seducer Steerforth; the unforgivable, unforgettably named Uriah Heep, whose unctuous servility cannot mask his evil intent; and David’s childhood housekeeper and lifelong friend and ally, the stalwart Peggotty, whose caring nature reflects the unaffected nobility of her family of Yarmouth fishermen. Through all the plotting and sub-plotting, the overriding sentiment of Dickensian fiction  –  that there are kindness and goodness in the world that underpins everything; the facades of wealth and privilege, the social currency of fashion, even when we least expect it  – carries the hero of this novel towards the satisfaction of a happy ending.

You shouldn’t read only one Dickens, but if you do, make it David Copperfield.

An extract from David Copperfield:

“My mother was sitting by the fire, but poorly in health, when lifting her eyes to the window opposite, she saw a strange lady coming up the garden. My mother had a sure foreboding at the second glance, that it was Miss Betsey. The setting sun was glowing on the strange lady, over the garden fence, and she came walking up to the door with a fell rigidity of figure and composure of countenance that could have belonged to nobody else.

When she reached the house, she gave another proof of her identity. My father had often hinted that she seldom conducted herself like any ordinary Christian, and now, instead of ringing the bell, she came and looked in at that identical window, pressing the end of her nose against the glass to that extent, that my poor dear mother used to say it became perfectly flat and white in a moment.  She gave my mother such a turn, that I have always been convinced I am indebted to Miss Betsey for having been born on a Friday.

My mother had left her chair in her agitation, and gone behind it in the corner. Miss Betsey, looking round the room, slowly and inquiringly, began on the other side, carried her eyes on, like a Saracen’s Head in a Dutch clock, until they reached my mother. Then she made a frown and a gesture to my mother, like one who was accustomed to being obeyed, to come and open the door. My mother went.

‘Mrs David Copperfield, I think,’ said Miss Betsey; the emphasis referring, perhaps, to my mother’s weeds, and her condition.

‘Yes,’ said my mother faintly.

‘Miss Trotwood,’ said the visitor. ‘You have heard of her, I dare say?’

My mother answered she had had that pleasure.  And she had a disagreeable consciousness of not appearing to imply that it had been an overpowering pleasure.

‘Now you see her,’ said Miss Betsey. My mother bent her head, and begged her to walk in.”

 

“A simple smile.
That’s the start of opening your heart
and being compassionate to others.”

Dalai  Lama

 

Below is a medley of the carol Silent Night sung by Tiny Tim, the prisoners, the sailors on a hurricane-tossed ship, and as the last unmissable clip, a beautiful voice of a tenor, the Spirit on the hill.

 

 

A  Christmas  Carol

You know the story of this quintessential Christmas tale, but have you ever read it? So many times has the tale been told  – in numerous stage and screen adaptations – that we are apt to think that we know the story very well indeed. Yet, no retelling comes close to capturing the humour, human sympathy, and kindness, the delicious spookiness, and ultimate good cheer of Dickens’s original narrative.

In less than a hundred pages,  A Christmas Carol relates, with an imaginative richness that belies its brevity, how the crabbed soul of an uncaring old man, Ebenezer Scrooge, is summoned back to generous life by the visitation of four spirits: first the shade of his deceased business partner, Jacob Marley, and then the spirits of Christmas Past, Christmas Present, and Christmas Yet to Come.

A compilation of interesting clips from the film with Patrick Stewart as Ebenezer Scrooge.

 

The Ghost of Christmas Present

Through their hauntings, Scrooge is moved by fear and understanding to embrace the abandoned affections of his youth, confront the meanness of his current existence, and recognise the sordid end he will meet if he does not change his ways.

All of the author’s famous gifts are on display in this cheering fable of a miser’s Christmas Eve metamorphosis from misanthrope to a man of goodwill, including his talent for deft characterisation, for poignant sentiment, and for indigenous monikers; was ever any curmudgeon more aptly named than Ebenezer Scrooge? A Christmas Carol is my second much-loved book and every Christmas I read the story and watch the film adaptation with Patrick Stewart as Scrooge, and cry my eyes out, moved by kindness the greatest virtue of all.

The Ghost of Christmas Yet To Come

An extract from A Christmas Carol:

“A churchyard. Here, then the wretched man, whose name he had now to learn, lay underneath the ground. It was a worthy place. Walled in by houses; overrun by grass and weeds, the growth of vegetation’s death, not life; choked up by with too much burying.

The Spirit stood among the graves, and pointed down to One. He advanced towards it trembling. The Phantom was exactly as it has been, but he dreaded that he saw new meaning in its solemn shape.

‘Before I draw nearer to that stone to which you point,’ said Scrooge, ‘answer me one question. Are these the shadows of the things that will be, or are they shadows of the things that Will be, or are they shadows of the things that May be only?’

Still, the Ghost pointed to the grave by which it stood.

‘Men’s courses will foreshadow certain ends, to which, if persevered in, they must lead,’ said Scrooge. ‘But if the courses be departed from, the end will change. Say  it is thus with what you show me!’

The Spirit was immovable as ever.

Scrooge crept towards it, trembling as he went; and, following the finger, read upon the stone of the neglected grave his own name, EBENEZER  SCROOGE.

‘Am I that man who lay upon the bed?’ he cried upon his knees.

The finger pointed from the grave to him, and back again.

‘No, Spirit! Oh no, no!’

The finger still was there.

‘Spirit!’ he cried, tight clutching at his robe, ‘hear me! I am not the man I was. I will not be the man I must have been but for this intercourse. Why show me this, if I am past all hope?’

For the first time, the hand appeared to shake.

‘Good Spirit,’ he pursued, as down upon the ground he fell before it, ‘your nature intercedes for me, and pities me. Assure me that I yet may change these shadows you have shown me by an altered life?’

The kind hand trembled.

‘I will honour Christmas in my heart, and try to keep it all the year. I will live in the Past, the Present, and the Future. The Spirits of all Three shall strive within me. I will not shut out the lessons that they teach. Oh, tell me I may sponge away the writing on this stone!’

In his agony he caught the spectral hand. It sought to free itself, but he was strong in his entreaty, and detained it. The Spirit stronger yet, repulsed him. Holding up his hands in a last prayer to have his fate reversed, he saw an alteration in the Phantom’s hood and dress. It shrunk, collapsed, and dwindled down into a bedpost.

Yes! and the bedpost was his own. The bed was his own, the room was his own. Best and happiest of all, the Time before him was his own, to make amends in!”

 

A typical Christmas feast in England,
in many homes now vegetarian by sparing the turkey

 

Oliver Twist

“Please, sir, I want some more” is among the most famous utterances in Dickens. It’s spoken by a very small orphan named Oliver Twist to the man in charge of ladling out the meagre portion of gruel. Oliver lives with other parentless children in a workhouse established by society to house impoverished youngsters.

In a single sentence, it conjures up all the forces at the heart of Oliver’s tale: innocence, want, mischief, hunger, boldness, desperation, misfortune. And, last but not least, institutionally sanctioned cruelty: “The master aimed a blow at Oliver’s head with the ladle, pinioned him in his arms, and  shrieked aloud for the beadle.”

Oliver Twist was its author’s second novel, telling a continuous story in a way his first, the delightful but episodic Pickwick Papers, did not. What is innovative in the book is not its shape, but its focus. Never before had a child been put so centre stage in a novel, more importantly, never before had childhood been treated in a prolonged narrative as a state of being in its own right, with all the colours and contours of an emotional landscape as fully developed as an adult’s.

Fagin and his pupils

As Oliver progresses from workhouse minion to undertaker’s assistant to conscript in the thieving army of urchin pickpockets led by the Artful Dodger and in thrall to the seedy ringleader Fagin, the reader is treated to a searing social satire on the treatment of paupers and bereft children, a vivid portrayal of the urban criminal underworld, and a suspenseful if murky plot that is a rollercoaster of dramatic events, hopes, and fears, degradation, and redemption. It’s an exhilarating chase, led by a young writer learning to harness his extraordinary creative energy.

 

“As long as there is breath,
there will always be HOPE
because nothing is pre-written,
and nothing cannot be re-written.”

Ruelha

 

Hans  Christian  Andersen
1805  –  1875

Hans Christian Andersen wrote some of the most treasured stories of the past two centuries, but his life was more like a Dickens novel than a fairytale. Born poor in Denmark, the son of a cobbler and a washerwoman, he was an awkward, dreamy youth who imagined a theatrical career for himself and left home for Copenhagen when he was fourteen. He suffered a period of privation before being rescued by patrons who sponsored his education and allowed him to immerse himself in two transformative activities: travel and writing.

The writing brought him acclaim, first as a novelist and later, resoundingly and lastingly, as an author of tales for children, the first volume of which he published in 1835. Despite his success as a writer, Andersen remained something of a social misfit with a gift for alienating even his friends (even Dickens himself with whom he overstayed his welcome on an 1857 visit to England.) No doubt, Andersen’s loneliness inspired the affection for outcasts and sorry souls that distinguishes many of his most beloved tales, such as “The Ugly Duckling”, “The Little Match Girl” and “The Steadfast Tin Soldier.”

“The Ugly Duckling”

“The Little Match Girl”

While the emotional sophistication of such stories can make them seem darker than their child-friendly frames at first suggest, there is no shortage of humour or high spirit in Anderson’s tales. Only a dozen or so of his 150 tales were drawn from existing folk tales, the rest came straight from his own imagination. Despite their relatively recent invention, Anderson’s best tales – “The Emperor’s New Clothes”, “The Princess and the Pea,” “The Snow Queen,” “The Nightingale,” and “Thumbelina” to mention a few  – have taken such strong root in our collective imagination that many readers fail to recognise that they have an author. Famously insecure in life, Anderson would almost certainly be stung by this failure to recognise his genius; but what better tribute to his stories than the assumption that they are as old as time?

The Emperor’s New Clothes

An extract from “The Princess and the Pea:”

“Once upon a time there was a prince and he wanted to marry a princess, only she had to be a real princess. So he went all over the world looking for one. But every time there was something the matter: princesses there were in plenty, but whether they were real princesses or not, he could never really make out, there was always something not quite real about them. So he came home again and was very sad because he did so want a real princess.

Now, one night there was a terrible storm. It thundered and lightened and rain poured down  – it was frightful!  All at once, there was a knock at the city gate, and the old king went out to open it. There, standing outside, was a princess. But dear me, what a sight she looked, in the wind and rain. The water was running down her hair and her clothes, and it was running in at the toes of her shoes and out again at the heels. And then she said she was a real princess.”

“The Little Mermaid”

An extract from “The Little Mermaid”:

“I will make you a drink, and before the sun rises you must swim ashore with it and sit on the shore and drink it. Your tail will then split in two and shrivel into what human beings call nice little legs. But it’ll hurt: like having a sharp sword go through you. All who see you will say you are the loveliest little human being they have ever seen! You’ll keep your graceful movements, and no dancer will be as graceful. But every step you take will be like treading on a sharp knife that draws blood. If you are ready to suffer all this, I am willing to help you.”

‘Yes! said the little mermaid in a trembling voice, thinking of the prince and of winning an immortal soul.

‘But remember this,’ said the which: ‘when once you have gained the human form, you can never more become a mermaid!  You will never be able to come down into the sea to and your father’s palace: and unless you win the prince’s love, so that for your sake he forgets his father and mother, and clings to your with all his heart and allows the clergymen to place your hands together so that you become husband and wife, you will never win an immortal soul! The morning after he marries another, your heart will break and you will become foam on the water.’

‘I am willing!’ said the little mermaid, turning as pale as death.’

_________________

“The sun now rose from the sea, its beams falling gently and warmly on the deadly cold foam. The little mermaid had no feeling of death, but saw the bright sun and, soaring above her, hundreds of lovely transparent creatures; through them she could see the ship’s white sails and the red clouds in the sky; their voice was music, but so spiritual that no human ear could hear it, just as no earthly eye could see them. They glided through the air without wings by their own lightness. The little mermaid saw that she had a body like theirs, which rose higher and higher out of the foam.

‘To whom am I coming?’ she said, and her voice sounded like that of the other beings, so spiritual that no earthly music can reproduce it. 

‘To the daughters of the air!’ they replied.

‘A mermaid never has an immortal soul, and can never get one unless she wins the love of a human being! Her everlasting life depends on a strange power. The daughters of the air have no everlasting soul either, but by good deeds, they can create one for themselves. We fly to the hot countries, where the warm, plague-filled air kills human beings, and there we waft cool breezes. We spread through the air the scents of flowers, bringing refreshment and healing. When for three hundred years we have striven to do all the good we can, we get an immortal soul and share in the eternal happiness of human beings.”               

 

 

43 thoughts on “Great Books of the World 24

  1. Those quotes are lovely, I particularly like the quote by Ruelha. I may carry that one in my pocket for a while. Kindness, hope, and goodness are what I’d love to see so much more of in our world. These are wonderful authors, so many favorite stories here. I haven’t read “Oliver Twist” and “The Little Match Girl” in a long while but my memory tells me they are the most heart wrenching tales. Film and television can’t light up our imagination as well as reading these books can.

    Liked by 2 people

  2. Thank you, Rose, I like the books that leave you with a moral code imprinted on your mind, That is how children learn before, and that is why I love classics. And you are right – kindness, hope, and goodness saved human beings from becoming just a memory in the long Earth’s history.

    Joanna

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  3. What a comprehensive post (as always) Joanna with wonderful reviews. I particularly enjoyed the review on Charles Dickens and the wonderful tribute to him and his incredible work and books.
    I love the others as well and the quotes you used as well! 💖

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Loved this Joanna as it brought back old old memories. David Copperfield was a favourite for a long long time.

    I, like all my siblings, studies in Hindi medium government schools. But because of my father’s love for English literature our house was always filled with English classics and I grew up on them.

    Stay blessed. Stay loved 🥰

    Liked by 2 people

  5. I 100% agree with you Joanna. This two were the legendary writers. There works inspires people even today. Thanks for such wonderful description and quotes. It was really interesting to read about them 😊.

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  6. Thank you, Aman, I hope that you will not only like to read about them but to read them too!

    Joanna

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Thank you, much appreciated.

    Joanna

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Thank you, Ashok, it is wonderful to meet a fellow reader who shares my love for Dickens, and David Copperfield in particular,
    You are very lucky to have such a special father.

    Joanna

    Liked by 1 person

  9. Thank you again. Greatly appreciated.

    Joanna

    Liked by 1 person

  10. Thank you, Cindy, I am very happy that you like those two Greats. I wish I could review more of their stories. Thank you for being so kind!

    Joanna

    Like

  11. Thank you again, Much appreciated.

    Joanna

    Liked by 1 person

  12. Yes Joanna we were blessed to have parents like ours.

    Stay blessed. Keep shining your light.

    Like

  13. As usual lovely quotes and great explanation. Thanks, Joanna!

    Like

  14. This jumped out to me first as a writer: “His stories are ultimately about the fate of the hero but are more truly dependent upon discovering, one step at a time, the destination of his journey. Dickens’ “biographical” approach to writing is a reason why his supporting characters, who contribute so much to the pleasure of reading his stories”. It’s super interesting to think about. The supporting characters make the story just as strong as the main character and they must be given the same treatment. I remember it wasn’t even until grad school that I really learned of Hans Christian Andersen. Disney was my only with the “The Little Mermaid”; however, it’s always nice to go back to the source material. Thanks for teaching as you always do and inspiring!

    Plus, I’m thinking about how much writing can really immortalize people and words. Very timeless classics you’ve delved into. I’m certain this great book search could never end!

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  15. Thank you, Benjamin, you do always say, what I like to hear. Of course, writing, like painting or composing, when is the greatest, immortalise artists because the memory passed on through the generations, never dies. And you are right, how can I stop revising when there are so many books that have to be read, they are that good?

    Joanna

    Like

  16. Thank you again, much appreciated!

    Joanna

    Like

  17. I had read David Copperfield, considered as a veiled autobiography of Charles Dickens. But the way you have described it raises interest to read it once again. I liked Oliver Twist, an extract of which was a part of my school curriculum, as an idealized portrait of a boy in a gang of young pickpockets with images of crime and poverty.

    Hans Anderson was a famous writer of fairy tales, but unfortunately, I have not read any one of them. After reading your post, I may like to go through some of them at least. The audio and quotes of Plato, Dalai Lama and Ruelha are really good. Hats off to you, Joanna for bringing it all together in one post, making it so interesting. Thanks again.

    Like

  18. Thank you very much, very kind. I am glad you enjoyed the post.

    Joanna

    Like

  19. Of course, as a child, I loved to hear Hans Christian Andersen stories but as a child and an adult, Charles Dickens wins every time! Of all his books, David Copperfield is my favourite. So many images, words and characters come to mind and of course, I’ve seen films of the story too, and especially the Sunday afternoon BBC dramas at 5 o’clock during the 1950s and 60s! (“Barkis is willin'” when I first read that I didn’t understand 🤣). So many amazing books, Great Expectations, A Tale of Two Cities, Bleak House to name a few; they are all brilliant and perfect for serialisation! Another marvellous post Joanna! Enjoy your weekend! 💖💌🙏

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  20. Thank you, Kaushal, you really are very kind. I would love you to read David Copperfield. And Christmas Carol, because it isn’t about Christmas at all, but about being a true, compassionate, and above all, kind human being, and that translates the same in every language on earth,
    The spirit of Scrooge’s partner says that instead of just stashing money, it is humanity that should be his business.
    Isn’t this exactly what you are urging people to do in your writing?

    Joanna

    Like

  21. Thank you, Ashley, very much! I love that you have remembered: “Barkis is willing”, I think a good apple pie was very persuasive too.

    Joanna

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  22. Joanna,
    You lead us this week to the shores of two sacred monsters. The first Dickens, I usually say is the English Victor Hugo. He is an author of immense stature. What fascinates me both in Dickens and in Andersen is this art of probing the human psyche. But how do they go so far in the exploration of personalities, in the dramatic thread? They have such a keen, keen knowledge of humanity. They are privileged witnesses of this, succeeding in producing the stories that have rocked our modern societies for generations. They do not manage to fall into oblivion, because how can you forget such gems of literature?
    They are geniuses.
    They are midwives of stories mixing drama, universalism, humanism, a thunder of twists and turns and intrigue and everything that makes the salt, the honey or the acid of life.
    Andersen nourished his work with his childhood, his history, his travels, his meetings, his fallen loves …
    Can you tell me if Charles Dickens traveled a lot?
    Because I am always very impressed by his ability to invent, imagine, situations, characters that are vibrant or more sinister. I imagine him in his office, surely comfortable surrounded by books. but the books do not say everything about life. You have to have experienced life a lot to talk about it so well, with so much brilliance and finesse. And what sense of imagination does it take to be so successful in producing all these treasures of stories …
    Sometimes I tell myself that these men were certainly literate, accomplished artists, but I think they had a somewhat extraordinary dimension, a kind of super intuition.
    They have the power to delve into the human soul, and it extracts for us the jewel of all gems, a story that touches the hearts of humanity.
    I also really like the beginning of your article, thank you for making this elegant reminder on the importance of kindness and how it often forms the basis of a work that crosses time.
    Kindness is so positive, it brings hope, it makes us so much bigger than we are.
    We should constantly practice the art of being kind.
    This would solve many problems in this world which reels in tensions …

    Bien fort !!
    Love💖💜🙏🏼
    Corinne

    Like

  23. you’re so welcome!!
    💖

    Like

  24. You’re welcome. And you’re right. So many good books to read from the past, present, and future. There will be an endless loop of it. And the best part of it is that we can also learn from all these books to become better artists and people. Thanks again! Stay well!

    Like

  25. Thank you. I am trying!

    Joanna

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  26. Thank you, my Dear Corinne. What would I do without your magnificent comments? You have pinpointed quite rightly the reasons
    for the timelessness of the classics, as the books can be read in any language without losing the moral message.
    Dickens did travel to the States and was adored there, but he wrote close to forty huge books, and when he died at 58, he looked decades older. He simply was burnt out.

    Joanna
    PS apologies for the delay, I had to do a bit of editing for someone.

    Like

  27. Wonderful stories and authors! Some of my favorite! Well done!
    dwight

    Like

  28. Thank you, very kind. I am happy that you like the writers and the books.

    Joanna

    Liked by 1 person

  29. Thank you. Greatly appreciated.

    Joanna

    Liked by 1 person

  30. I love the quotes and I enjoyed reading the extracts from these classics. Thank you for sharing.

    Like

  31. Thank you, for your kind comments. I am glad that you liked the extract, you might like some of the books too.

    Joanna

    Liked by 1 person

  32. Thank you again. much appreciated.

    Joanna

    Liked by 1 person

  33. I’ve read most of the books and therefore especially liked reading the extract

    Like

  34. Yes, you are right, a good reminder.

    Joanna

    Liked by 1 person

  35. Hi. You’ve done your magic as always. What a wonderful tribute to the greatest novelist of the Victorian Era. Till date I’ve read only one novel by Dickens and that is ‘Oliver Twist’. It is the third novel I read entirely after ‘ Gulliver’s Travel’ and ‘A Study in Scarlett’. Although I know the story of ‘David Copperfield’ a bit but never got the opportunity to read it. Hope someday I’ll get that book in my hand with a lot of free time to read peacefully that masterpiece.

    Have a great day ahead. Shayan.

    Like

  36. Thank you, Shayan, you are very kind and generous in your comment. I think, that you would be to read more if instead of setting time for a whole book, you read, say, 5 pages a day.

    Joanna

    Like

  37. I really liked stories by Andersen but I haven’t read much of Dickens’ and David’s so definetly looking forward to read ’em!!

    Like

  38. Thank you, Khushi for your kind comment. You will enjoy David Copperfield.

    Joanna

    Liked by 1 person

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