Saturday 18 July 2009

The Professor's House

At times the wire lady was most convincing in her pose as a woman of light behaviour, but she never fooled St Peter. He had his blind spots, but he had never been taken in by one of her kind!
Remember Miss Blossom, the dressmaker's dummy in I Capture The Castle who offers womanly advice such as 'Well dearie, that's what men are like' to the unworldly Rose and Cassandra? Interestingly, there is also a well-developed female form in a wire skirt in the professor's study which doubles as a family sewing room in The Professor's House. This form, too, acts as a kind of substitute for real relationships. Dismayed, as his wife and daughters are drawn into a life of consumerism and acquisition, the professor increasingly prefers the company of the dressmaker's dummy.

My Antonia is generally considered to be Willa Cather's finest novel but I think for sheer enjoyment The Professor's House, originally published in 1925, is my favourite. Take a look here and here for a beautifully written account of a visit to Willa Cather's home town, Red Cloud, in Nebraska.

Tuesday 14 July 2009

Irene Dische

Funny how books suddenly attract your attention. I first heard about The Empress of Weehawken on that excellent but now sadly defunct site Readerville where it was getting some good reviews. I saw it again on Caustic Cover Critic which reminded me to put it on my tbr list. I finally got around to ordering it last week and started reading it at the weekend.

But ... I can't get into it. Not that it's a bad book but I still have a head full of The House of Mirth and Lily Bart is following me around. I need to read more Edith Wharton. Having exhausted my book budget (currently one paperback per month) I made a quick trip to the library after work yesterday evening and picked up Ethan Frome and Hermione Lee's Wharton biography.
The Empress of Weehawken is temporarily on hold.

Saturday 11 July 2009

Edith Wharton

I loved this novel from its opening sentence where Lawrence Selden runs into his friend Lily Bart at Grand Central Station and notices that her bloom is slightly diminished after 'eleven years of late hours and indefatigable dancing.'

At twenty-nine, Lily Bart, a poor girl whose beauty enables her to move in the best American society, is aware of the pressing need to marry a rich man because time is passing and this is echoed in the 'glitter of the American autumn' of the first chapters.

On a deeper level, Lily knows she is better than that and her friendship with Lawrence Selden a young lawyer of integrity who maintains a certain aloofness from the vicissitudes of fashionable society often verges on love. But Lily has a self-destructive streak and as her debts mount and her reputation suffers she finds that society rejects her.

Despite - or perhaps because of - her failings I adored Lily Bart. I now want to read everything Edith Wharton has written.

Friday 3 July 2009

The Colour Purple

I must confess that I really did not want to drag myself away from my beloved Austen to read The Colour Purple for book club. However, I'm glad I did because it's a very good book. I did think that Celie's first person narration was much more convincing than the epistolary form of Nettie's story. I liked the way that Celie worked through her troubles creatively by sewing and quilting which then became a source of income.

In Alice Walker's introduction to the tenth anniversary edition she talks of the colour purple, how 'this colour is always a surprise, but is everywhere in nature.' So true.