Saturday 27 June 2009

House of Mirth

On a visit to London with friends yesterday I was struck by a painting of the glamorous Lady Colin Campbell in the National Portrait Gallery. I popped into Waterstone's to buy some of the books on my tbr list and the very same painting was on the cover of Edith Wharton's House of Mirth! There are some excellent Edith Wharton posts here and here.
Also saw a stunning arrangement of hydrangeas in a huge square cut glass vase in a London restaurant. Who would have thought of cutting hydrangeas for indoors?

Thursday 25 June 2009


2 February 1947-25 June 2009

Tuesday 23 June 2009

Summer reading

I think it's safe to say that I'm going through an Austen phase right now! I really want to re-read Sense and Sensibility after Emma but book group is looming and I only have a week to read Alice Walker's The Colour Purple.

I heard Kate Mosse reviewing Stephanie Meyer's Twilight on Radio 4 today and as I like teen/adult crossover fiction this is going on my tbr list. I've also ordered Irene Dische's novel The Empress of Weekhawken which I can't wait to read.

Can't decide whether I want to read Claire Harman's Jane's Fame or not. I heard some interesting extracts on Radio 4 but I think I'd rather read books by Austen than books about Austen.
Anyone planned their summer reading?

Sunday 21 June 2009


?December 1815-January 1816

My dear Anna

As I wish very much to see your Jemima, I am sure you will like to see my Emma, & have therefore great pleasure in sending it for your perusal. Keep it as long as you chuse, it has been read by all here.-
I'm re-reading Emma and also dipping into Deidre Le Fayes's collection of Austen's letters for references to Emma. I like the letter to Anna Lefroy (quoted above) in which Austen looks forward to seeing Anna's new baby, Jemima, and sends 'my Emma' for Anna to read.

Austen's affection for her new novel is justified. Written at the peak of her literary prowess you get the sense she is having great fun with Emma. I loved the Christmas Eve dinner party at Mr Weston's where it begins to snow and 'everybody was either surprised or not surprised' and the arrival of Mrs Elton and visits which must be paid to decide whether she 'were very pretty indeed, or only rather pretty, or not pretty at all.'

Can't wait for the strawberry party ...

Monday 8 June 2009

Northanger Abbey

"Friendship is the finest balm for the pangs of despised love."
This is my favourite Austen quote but I'd forgotten which novel it comes from. Of course, it's Northanger Abbey.

Well that's the hardback budget blown for the year! I have now completed my collection of the handsome Everyman's Library Austen titles. There are seven in all - the six novels and Sanditon and Other Stories. A couple of years ago I visited Bath so I can now visualise the Pump Room and the streets as Catherine walks through them with Isabella. Anyone else fond of Northanger Abbey?

Saturday 6 June 2009

Virago Modern Classics

First published in 1918 The Return of the Soldier demonstrates Rebecca West's gift for writing. Chris Baldry, charming, handsome and wealthy, returns from the war with amnesia caused by shell-shock. He has forgotten about his beautiful, spoilt wife Kitty, and devoted young cousin, Jenny. Instead his memory resides 15 years ago with his first love, Margery Allington, a woman now grown shabby, tired and poverty-stricken. Told from the perspective of Jenny, this is a brilliant short novel. If you are new to Rebecca West I also recommend The Fountain Overflows. After reading it this novel will haunt you for days - in a good way!

I wasn't sure whether I liked Elizabeth Von Arnim's Elizabeth and her German Garden at first. It seemed a lot like a gardening manual and I'd been hoping for a novel. However, as it progressed I started to enjoy it. A little like Diary of a Provincial Lady without quite the same wit and warmth.

Monday 1 June 2009

Katherine Mansfield's Journal

Before I read Katherine Mansfield's Journal, published by Persephone, I thought it would mainly be of interest to those who admire her short stories. Now that I have read it I think it would also be a perfect book for those who want to write and are interested in the writing life.

Mansfield appears never to be completely satisfied with what she has written and constantly strives for truth and clarity in her work:

October 16 1921. Another radiant day. J. is typing my last story, The Garden Party, which I finished on my birthday [October 14]. It took me nearly a month to 'recover' from At the Bay. I made a least three false starts.
Mansfield suffered terribly from consumptive illness and died at the age of just 34. It is clear from her journal that she knew her time was limited. We will never know what she could have written in maturity but her finest short stories are literary masterpieces.