Saturday 25 December 2010

More Elizabeth Bowen

After her mother's death 16-year old Portia is sent to London to live with her half-brother Thomas and his wife, Anna. They have a beautiful house overlooking Regent's Park and Matchett, the housekeeper, has been with the family for many years and rules the household. Portia is naive and child-like and finds the glamorous Anna and her home imposing and intimidating. When an 'unsuitable' young man takes an interest in Portia she is sent to stay by the sea.

Bowen is wonderful at leaving things unsaid. Although The Death of the Heart is the story of Portia it is Anna who dominates the novel and is by far the most interesting character. I particularly enjoyed the account of her reading extracts from Portia's diary and the Mrs Danvers-like Matchett accompanying Portia to school through a London fog and insisting that she keeps her scarf wrapped around her face and not to swallow any!

I've bought To the North because I plan to read more Elizabeth Bowen but not right now. Sometimes, only Austen will do!

Sunday 12 December 2010

Elizabeth Bowen

There was a smell of freesias and sandalwood: it was nice to be in from the cold park.
A man and woman meet in Regent's Park in frosty midwinter. Clad in furs and deep in conversation they pause on the icy footbridge. When the intense cold becomes unbearable and dusk falls they make their way back through the inch of park gate which has been left open for them.

Elizabeth Bowen's novel The Death of the Heart opens with a wonderful wintry London setting. Bowen is another writer I've been meaning to read this year and I've a couple of weeks left to do it in! I'd be interested in other recommendations for her novels. Justine Picardie's post earlier this year made me want to read this one.

Sunday 5 December 2010

Wives and Daughters

Can't say I'm enjoying the Radio 4 adaption of Wives and Daughters. Something about those arch actressy voices gets on my nerves. Did the Victorians really speak like that? I did enjoy listening to Jenny Uglow talking about Elizabeth Gaskell on Woman's Hour though, and as she pointed out, the fact that the novel is unfinished does not detract from our enjoyment of it.

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!