Saturday, 25 December 2010
More Elizabeth Bowen
Sunday, 12 December 2010
There was a smell of freesias and sandalwood: it was nice to be in from the cold park.
Sunday, 5 December 2010
Wives and Daughters
I'd always vaguely thought of Gaskell's novels as 'industrial' and consequently avoided them, but reading Cranford a couple of years ago opened my eyes to a warmly humourous writer with a deeply perceptive knowledge of human nature.
Wives and Daughters is a coming of age story and follows the life of Molly Gibson from a child to a woman of nineteen. Molly is the daughter of the local surgeon, a widower. When he re-marries Molly does not get on with her stepmother, a woman only concerned with keeping up appearances, but adores her new step-sister, Cynthia. Molly is a deeply moral girl with fierce loyalties to her father and friends, but it is in the portrayal of the sarcastic Cynthia and her mother that Gaskell really excels.
I'm pretty sure Gaskell was influenced by Maria Edgeworth and she actually mentions Edgeworth in Wives and Daughters. Now there's a topic for a dissertation ... if only I was a student again!
Sunday, 28 November 2010
More Elizabeth Gaskell
Saturday, 20 November 2010
Wives and Daughters
And she had found her way into the library, and used to undo the heavy bars of the shutters if the housemaid had forgotten this duty, and mount the ladder sitting on the steps for an hour at a time, deep in some book of the old English classics. The summer days were very short to this happy girl of seventeen.
Nothing like having a reading plan and then immediately deviating from it. I initially wanted to read Elizabeth Gaskells's Wives and Daughters because she mentions Maria Edgeworth, but I've got completely absorbed in the story and can't put it down. I've also been inspired by Elaine's post on Vic Lit (love that phrase) Girlebooks review of Wives and Daughters and several of your comments recommending Gaskell.
Sunday, 14 November 2010
The Three Weissmanns of Westport
The novel begins with the wealthy Mr Weissman telling his 75-year old wife he wants a divorce and she must leave their beautiful New York apartment. A gregarious cousin offers her a run-down cottage in Westport overlooking Long Island Sound. Betty's two middle-age daughters, Miranda and Annie, decide to move with her to escape their own troubled lives. The impetuous and romantic Miranda has seen her literary agency which specialises in 'misery memoirs' fail spectacularly and sensible Annie is suffering from empty nest syndrome now her sons have left home.
Of course, Annie represents Elinor Dashword, Miranda is Marianne, Betty Weissman is Mrs Dashwood and the sociable cousin Sir John Middleton. Marianne's accident in Sense and Sensiblity where she twists her ankle and is rescued by the handsome and unreliable Willoughby is transformed in this novel into a kayaking accident where Miranda is rescued from the sea by an equally handsome and unreliable younger man and an unlikely romance blossoms.
Of course, it's fun for Austen nerds like me to spot the similarities between this book and Sense and Sensibility and the novel certainly has its moments but I'd much rather read the original!
Friday, 5 November 2010
Hotel Du Lac
All I learned I learned from Father. Think again Edith. You have made a false equation.
Monday, 1 November 2010
Friday, 15 October 2010
Wednesday, 6 October 2010
Wednesday, 29 September 2010
Helen Stanley is a gentle heroine. Not as passive as Fanny in Mansfield Park, more like a younger version of Anne in Persuasion. Orphaned as a child and educated beyond her fortune, she is bought up by her kindly but extravagant uncle. After his sudden death she is adopted by Lady Davenant the mother of her best friend, Cecilia.
I have made up my mind to like no Novels really, but Miss Edgeworth's, Yours & my own. Jane Austen, letter to Anna Austen, Wednesday 28th September 1814
Cecilia provides a lively contrast to Helen. Spirited, confident and an incurable liar, she charms the reader and exploits Helen's naivety. Helen believes Cecilia's blatant lie that the man she loves is engaged and when Cecilia suggests that, as best friends, they always dress alike she orders jewellery way beyond her income. Of course, Cecilia's lies lead to her downfall and the plot races along to a most satisfying end which I'm not going to spoil.
Maria Edgeworth is an astute writer, politically engaged and some of her waspish lines could be lifted straight from an Austen novel:
Helen was too pretty to be invited to stay at a house where there are marriageable daughters.
She is different to Austen, too. About half way through I realised that Helen is not a love story but an exploration of female relationships. I've ordered Edgeworth's Belinda and I'm tempted to re-read Persuasion that most autumnal of Austen's novels.
Saturday, 18 September 2010
What Jane Read
Friday, 10 September 2010
Women in Africa
I sat beside my mother, only a little less fortified in a pith helmet and a starched cotton dress.
Tuesday, 31 August 2010
Her normal life pleased her so well that she was half afraid to step out of its frame in case one day she should find herself unable to get back.
Monday, 23 August 2010
Elegy to Africa
I had a farm in Africa, at the foot of the Ngong Hills.
Monday, 16 August 2010
Two good things on a Tuesday
Thursday, 12 August 2010
I particularly liked Susanna Clark's argument that Austen wasn't a 'visual writer'. The bonnets, dresses, ballrooms and carriages belong to the world of film and television. Austen herself barely described these things, being more interested in the psyche of the character.
'I dare say she will be in yellow, she writes to Cassandra. But not in that nor in any colour could she find her.'
Friday, 30 July 2010
For some reason I wasn't as taken with this book as I hoped I would be. The harrowing details of life in Guernsey during the war and the fate of those who were sent to concentration camps were vividly described and so sad to read. By contrast there were lots of delicious details - I loved Isolda's discovery of Jane Austen, Peter Sawyer's desperation to see a picture of Rita Hayworth and Sidney Stark the charming publisher.
It was Julia herself I didn't find plausible. Just didn't buy the fact that she would relocate to Guernsey and bring up another woman's daughter as her own on the basis of a short visit even allowing for the exigencies of wartime. Perhaps it was the epistolary form that was the problem, but I couldn't help feeling that after Julia had completed her book her interest in the island and its inhabitants would wane.
Saturday, 24 July 2010
A Gate at the Stairs
Reader, I did not even have coffee with him.
That much I learned in college.
Sunday, 18 July 2010
Eudora Welty has been on my radar for a long time and I found a vintage Virago for the princely sum of £1.99 at the Oxfam bookstore. The Optimist's Daughter is a sensitive and beautifully written short novel about a women trying to cope with the death of her father and sustain a relationship with his vulgar, ill-bred wife. A Work in Progress has a very good Eudora Welty post.
I've shamefully neglected Lorrie Moore since I read her collection of short stories, Self-Help, waaaaay back in the eighties. A Gate at the Stairs is one of the best novels I've read this year. I jut can't put it down and I'll post a review when I'm through.
Note to publishers: if you must put a sticker on a book, don't emboss it into the cover, make it a peel off one. I don't care if it's nominated for the Orange Prize or Richard & Judy like it or it's on 3-for-2 offer. Books are aesthetically pleasing objects in themselves and I don't want a dumb sticker on it that I can't remove!
Sunday, 11 July 2010
The Peacock Spring
Tuesday, 6 July 2010
Coromandel Sea Change
Tuesday, 29 June 2010
The Greengage Summer
He laughed and put his arm round my neck, his hand under my dress. I jumped as, quite casually and calmly, he felt my breasts, but he took his hand away. "Deux petits citrons," he said and laughed. Citrons! Lemons! He laughed again at the outraged look on my face ...
Sunday, 27 June 2010
Miss Happiness and Miss Flower
Saturday, 19 June 2010
Nan used sometimes to play charms with them. She dropped pieces of lead tinfoil into a saucepan of boiling water, and, when they were softened, she lifted them out with a spoon on to a cold plate where they hardened. Whatever shapes they made told your future.Four children, Bea, Harriet, Bogey and Victoria are growing up in colonial India. They live in a beautiful house with an exotic garden containing jacaranda trees, poinsettias, bamboos, bridal creepers, passionflowers and Harriet's special cork tree. Sitting on the veranda their Nan makes charms to tell their future. Bea's takes the shape of a ring, Harriet's a globe, Victoria's a bucket and Bogey's refuses to coagulate and take shape .
Like The Greengage Summer and The Peacock Spring, The River is one of those perfect coming-of-age novels which Godden excelled at. Told from the point of view of Harriet, a literary child on the verge of womanhood who keeps journals and writes stories, we learn of her jealousy of her beautiful older sister, Bea, who no longer wants to be her playmate and her affection for her rough and tumble brother, Bogey, whose penchant for searching for cobras in the garden ends in tragedy.
Plenty of great novels boom large and loud, but just occasionally along comes one so tiny and sneakily perfect that it stops you in your tracks.
Saturday, 12 June 2010
Tuesday, 1 June 2010
A visit to Bath over the weekend meant a trip to Mr B's Emporium of Reading Delights an independent bookshop with extremely friendly and helpful staff, bowls of cheerful flowers around the store and a reading room upstairs. I also found this beautiful edition of Elizabeth Bishop's collected poems. The poem above is a villanelle called One Art.
Sunday, 23 May 2010
Emily Dickinson and George Eliot
Friday, 14 May 2010
Latest Waterstones irritation: buying a copy of Helen Simpson's new collection of short stories In-flight Entertainment and the assistant telling me that because I'd spent over £10.00 I was entitled to a half-price copy of a new chicklit type novel which he held up for my perusal. I told him I've nothing against superior chick-lit (loved The Nanny Diaries) but I'd rather choose a title myself or why not a half-price Jane Austen novel? Sadly he declined.
A new book from Helen Simpson is always a delight and this collection contains a wonderful story called The Festival of the Immortals where long-dead writers attend a modern literary festival. Charlotte Bronte is booked to read extracts from Villette and two women queueing for the tea tent are anticipating what she will be like. This story was published in The Guardian with a delicious illustration by Posy Simmonds and you can read it here.
I Prefer Reading has an excellent post on Helen Simpson. I'm off to finish the Emily Dickinson biography which is the best book I've read this year.
Saturday, 8 May 2010
This is my letter to the WorldI'm completely absorbed in Lyndall Gordon's Lives Like Loaded Guns - Emily Dickinson and Her Family's Feuds. It's an extraordinary biography which reads like a novel. Emily Dickinson's early reading and influences included the Bronte sisters, Elizabeth Barrett Browning and George Eliot, particularly Maggie Tulliver from The Mill on the Floss. I love the thought of Dickinson and her sister-in-law Sue avidly reading all the new publications from England.
That never wrote to Me -
The simple News
that Nature told -
With tender Majesty
Her Message is committed
To Hands I cannot see -
For love of Her - Sweet - countrymen -
Judge tenderly - of Me
Saturday, 1 May 2010
The Camomile Lawn
Helena Cuthbertson picked up the crumpled Times by her sleeping husband and went to the flower room to iron it.
Sunday, 25 April 2010
What is in no doubt is her gift for writing. Nella reminded me a little of Jane Austen who remained unpublished for much of her life but never doubted her literary genius. To a certain extent, Nella did have an admiring audience for her writing. She was known for writing brilliant letters and when poor Jess had a complete nervous breakdown - what we would probably now call severe post-natal depression - she kept the doctor and matron in the hospital entertained with Nella's letters.
One woman I know - a big-made woman of about fifty-six who took on an air-raid warden job - has had a nervous breakdown. Her niece said she had always had a fear of the dark and, now she knew she would have to take her turn in the dark all winter, she has cracked up.I want to read more about the blackouts so I've looked out The Provincial Lady in Wartime and I'm pretty sure there are some descriptions of the blackouts in Mary Wesley's The Camomile Lawn. Maybe somebody can remember?
Sunday, 18 April 2010
Nella Last's Peace
Always I longed to write, but there was something missing. Only in my letter writing and MO have I found fulfilment of my girlhood yearning to write.
Sunday, 4 April 2010
Wigs on the Green
Reading Nancy Mitford makes me believe that writing comic novels is one of the most purely humanitarian endeavors civilization has ever come up with. Jane Smiley, 13 Ways of Looking at the Novel
Nancy Mitford wrote two of the finest comic novels in the English language. Sadly, Wigs on the Green isn't one of them. To be fair I wasn't really in the mood for farce when I picked this up preferring something weighty and substantial, but of course I wanted to read a Mitford novel that hasn't been available in this country since 1935.
The opening was unpromising but I hoped the old Mitford magic would take over and draw me in. Certainly, in the portrayal of Mrs Lace the Local Beauty who dresses as if every day is a fancy dress party, you can see the comic potential of a writer who would go on to create the brilliant The Pursuit of Love (1945) and Love in a Cold Climate (1949).
Sunday, 28 March 2010
Mansfield Park (2)
I have something in hand - which I hope on the credit of P&P will sell well, tho' not half so entertaining. Jane Austen letter to her brother, Frank, 1813
Saturday, 20 March 2010
Jane's Fame (2)
It makes one wonder which part of Pride and Prejudice the producers had been thinking of - the Darcy-Elizabeth plot or Wickham and Lydia's.As always, books about Austen make me want to return to the texts themselves. I'm supposed to be reading Stieg Larsson's The Girl Who Played With Fire for book group but I'm going to squeeze in a re-read of Mansfield Park first.
Sunday, 14 March 2010
Friday, 5 March 2010
Go steady, Undine!
Undine's white and gold bedroom with sea-green panels and old rose carpet, looked along the Seventy-second street toward the leafless treetops of the Central Park.
Sunday, 28 February 2010
Saturday, 20 February 2010
The Custom of the Country
Undine was fiercely independent and yet passionately imitative. She wanted to surprise everyone by her dash and originality, but she could not help modelling herself on the last person she met ...
Saturday, 13 February 2010
Sunday, 31 January 2010
Doc was collecting marine animals in the Great Tide Pool on the tip of the Peninsula. It is a fabulous place: when the tide is in, a wave-churned basin, creamy with foam whipped by the combers that roll in from the whistling buoy on the reef.John Steinbeck's exhilarating passion for his native Monterey in California is evident throughout Cannery Row. Doc the scientist goes about his daily business collecting starfish, octopi and abalone from the tide pools for the Western Biological Laboratory. Lee Chong keeps a watchful eye on his store and a closer eye on Mack and the boys who live in the Palace Flophouse. Dora and her girls at the Bear Flag brothel work hard to accommodate the men coming in from the fishing boats and every evening at dusk the old Chinaman walks through the lot and across the beach not to return until dawn.
The things we admire in men, kindness and generosity, openness, honesty, understanding and feeling are the concomitants of failure in our system. And those traits we detest, sharpness, greed, acquisitiveness, meanness, egotism and self-interest are the traits of success. And while men admire the quality of the first they love the produce of the second. John Steinbeck, Cannery Row
Sunday, 24 January 2010
The Life of Charlotte Bronte
He loved to steal up-stairs, and stretch his square, tawny limbs, on the comfortable beds, covered over with delicate white counterpanes. But the cleanliness of the parsonage arrangements was perfect; and this habit of Keeper's was so objectionable, that Emily in reply to Tabby's remonstrances, declared that, if he was found again transgressing, she herself, in defiance of warning and his well-known ferocity of nature,would beat him so severely that he would never offend again.
Muriel Spark's biography and critical study of Emily Bronte has been on my bookshelf for many years. Time for a re-read.
Saturday, 16 January 2010
Her Fearful Symmetry
Sunday, 10 January 2010
For some years I have been perfectly my own mistress, subject to no control whatever; so far from it, that my sisters, who are many years older than myself, and even my own dear mother used to consult me on every occasion of importance...It could be a quote from the fiercely independent Jane Eyre, but actually it's an extract from Maria Branwell's letter to Patrick Bronte. I'm deeply absorbed in The Life of Charlotte Bronte and intrigued by Charlotte's mother, Maria Branwell. Extracts from the letters she wrote to Patrick Bronte during the time of their engagement suggest a warm, intelligent woman, fond of reading and domesticity - she even makes her own wedding cake. Born and raised in Penzance, Cornwall, she is dismayed when her books, clothes and other belongings are conveyed by water to her new home and lost in a shipwreck. What a loss her early death must have been to her six children.