Sunday, May 19, 2013
Set in the late 1930s, this is the story of the four Makioka sisters who are from an affluent family, originally successful merchants in Osaka. The parents have passed away and the family's fortunes are somewhat in decline. The two eldest are married (both the husbands have taken the Makioka name, which surprised me), and the two younger, in their mid- to late twenties, are still single. Most of the story centers around the second sister, Sachiko, and her relationship with her two younger sisters, Yukiko and Taeko. Yukiko is nearly thirty and the family is anxious to marry her off. She's had several proposals, mostly men she hardly knew, but either she didn't like the man or the family has found something unsuitable about him. The youngest, Taeko, has a suitor, but she seems more interested in a career than marrying. Also, the family is traditional and would prefer she wait to marry until her older sister has a husband.
The story spans several years of the sisters' lives. Much of the action involves Sachiko's attempts to find a suitable husband for Yukiko, but it's really a story about the day-to-day life of an upper-middle class family in the 1930s. It's mostly a domestic novel, but there are more and more hints about the war to come. Sachiko's family has neighbors who are a German family, and their children are playmates. Eventually they move away and we learn from letters aspects of the coming war in Europe; also, towards the end of the book there are more and more mentions of the "China Incident" -- the second Sino-Japanese war that began in 1937.
I kept hearing that this book was a sort of Japanese version of Pride and Prejudice, but I honestly did not make that connection at all while reading it. If I hadn't heard it earlier, I would never have compared the two. In the beginning of the book, the only things they have in common is that they are about families with unmarried sisters trying to find husbands, and a backdrop of imminent war (though wars are barely mentioned in Jane Austen). Later, I did find that one of the Makioka sisters has a pretty strong resemblance to one of the Bennet sisters, but I won't say which one since I don't want to spoil it for anyone. But I really couldn't find any other parallels between the plot nor the characters. Sorry, no Japanese Mr. Darcy!
I liked learning about the minutia of daily life in Japan during the era, and I especially liked that it was by a Japanese writer contemporary to the time. I lived in Japan for more than two years, but sadly, I've read very few books by actual Japanese writers, and none of their classics. I thought the characters were really well developed and I got a lot of insight about what it must have been like in that time. However, I couldn't help thinking that the Makioka family members were so wrapped up in their own domestic troubles they couldn't see the war looming ahead of them; I couldn't help wondering which of the characters would survive WWII and how life would change for them. I'd really like to read a Japanese novel about life in Japan during the war, so if anyone could suggest one I'd love a recommendation.
This book counts as the third read for my TBR Pile 2013 Challenge; my 20th Century Classic for my Back to the Classics Challenge; my second read for the Chunkster Challenge; and my 24th book from my Classics Club Challenge.
Thursday, May 16, 2013
Technically, I'm on a blogging break. But I really, really loved The Classics Spin from a couple a months ago, and I adore making lists. Also, I'm really, really trying to read books off my own shelves. So I am going to let the nice people at the Classics Club choose my next classic read off the following list from my own shelves, and complete it before July 1. Hopefully by July 1 I'll be inspired to write something about what I'm reading.
Anyway, here's my second Classics Spin List:
Five books I really want to read:
1. Shadows on the Rock by Willa Cather
2. The Edwardians by Vita Sackville-West
3. The Ladies' Paradise by Emile Zola
4. Twilight Sleep by Edith Wharton
5. Theater by W. Somerset Maugham
Five books I'm sort of dreading:
6. Lady Chatterley's Lover by D. H. Lawrence
7. Moby-Dick by Herman Melville
8. The Good Soldier Svejk by Jaroslav Hacek
9. Nana by Emile Zola
10. Giants of the Earth by A. E. Rolvaag
Five books I'm neutral about:
11. Sentimental Education by Gustav Flaubert
12. Lucky Jim by Kingsley Amis
13. The Return of the Soldier by Rebecca West
14. New Grub Street by George Gissing
15. I, Claudius by Robert Graves
Five books by Anthony Trollope (I still have eight books by Trollope on my list!):
16. Rachel Ray
17. Miss Mackenzie
18. Orley Farm
19. Ayala's Angel
20. He Knew He Was Right
16. Rachel Ray
17. Miss Mackenzie
18. Orley Farm
19. Ayala's Angel
20. He Knew He Was Right
Bloggers, which of these have you read? Loved them or hated them? I'm really looking forward to Monday to see what number comes up!
Updated: The Classics Spin number was . . . 6!! So I'll be reading (or attempting to read) Lady Chatterley's Lover by D. H. Lawrence, also one of the books on my TBR Pile Challenge List. This might just be the push I need to give it a try. Who knows, maybe I'll like it. I was expecting to hate Sons and Lovers and I really liked it.
Monday, May 13, 2013
|I wish I were in this hammock, reading a good book, but I am not.|
As you may or may not have noticed, it's been nearly a month since my last blog posting. Although I'm still reading at an admirable pace, lately I just have not been inspired enough to blog about it. A full-time job and a family are just getting in the way, I guess. For the past few months it's been feeling more like homework.
So I'm not saying I'm going to give up blogging, but for awhile, I'm going to take a little break. I'm still following lots of book blogs, and I'm going to continue commenting (at least until July 1 when Google Reader is disappearing, and I'll have to find another way to keep up with my subscriptions).
Anyway, I'll have plenty of books to keep me busy and I hope to be back at some point. Happy reading, everyone!
Anyway, I'll have plenty of books to keep me busy and I hope to be back at some point. Happy reading, everyone!
Friday, April 19, 2013
In honor of Zola's birthday, I was happy to sign up for a Zola reading event hoted by Delaisse and Fanda. I had six novels by Zola on the TBR shelves, and I settled on The Masterpiece because I'm fascinated by Impressionist painters. (And because it's fairly short, less than 400 pages.) Though it's not my favorite Zola so far, it was definitely interesting, though tragic. The Masterpiece is the fourteenth book in Zola's Rougon-Macquart cycle, and it's the story of Claude Lantier, an Impressionist artist living in Paris and his obsession with creating a masterpiece. Claude's obsession becomes his downfall. The character of Claude is based on the Impressionist Paul Cezanne, Zola's childhood friend.
|Not actually a painting by Cezanne -- this cover is a detail of a portrait of the artist Bazille, by Auguste Renoir.|
In the morning, he peeks at the sleeping woman, Christine, and is so inspired by her beauty that he begins to sketch her. After she awakes, she flees the apartment, but returns weeks later to thank him. They begin a friendship that eventually blossoms into something more.
Meanwhile, Claude is hard at work on his paintings, and he and his artist colleagues are desperately trying to get their work accepted at the official Paris Salon. Claude and his friends are "Open Air" artists, also known as Impressionists, so their work is too radical and daring. Claude's major work at this time is based on Edouard Manet's most famous work, Le dejuener sur l'herbe:
This being a Zola novel, Claude is another train wreck (he's the son of Gervaise Lantier of L'Assommoir and brother of Jacques Lantier of La Bete Humaine, so he's from an entire family of train wrecks! Nobody writes fascinating train wrecks like Zola). Christine becomes Claude's lover, and things go pretty well for awhile, but eventually Claude becomes obsessed with creating a masterwork, and his life turns into a downward spiral; naturally, tragedy ensues. Along the way Zola takes some serious jabs at the artistic temperament and obsession, and about the politics of the Paris art scene. (Zola himself is represented by Claude's childhood friend Pierre Sandoz, a writer.)
This is Zola's most autobiographical work, and even though the book is ostensibly about artists, I couldn't help wondering if any of Zola's own experiences as a writer were expressed as Claude's obsession, with a lot of insight as to the constant stress of artists and their overwhelming need to create better and better works. Here, Claude's friend Bongrand, a fellow artists, tells Claude how hard it is even after an artist is successful:
That's when the torture begins; you've drunk your excitement to the dregs and found it all too short and even rather bitter, and you wonder whether it was really worth the struggle. From that point there is no more unknown to explore, no new sensations to experience. Pride has had its brief moment of celebrity; you know that your best has been given and you're surprised it hasn't brought a keener sense of satisfaction. From that moment the horizon starts to empty of all the hopes that once attracted you towards it. There's nothing to look forward to but death.
After The Masterpiece was published, Cezanne never forgave Zola and refused to speak to him ever again, so it must have hit pretty close to home. I liked this book, though not as much as some of the other Rougon-Macquart novels I've read. I found the plot to be a little on the slow side. Zola's characters tend to be fairly awful people, but the stories themselves are so compelling I can hardly put them down -- I zoomed through Germinal and La Bete Humaine in a just a couple of days each. This one took longer. I did like some of the characters, especially Sandoz, and the story was interesting, but somehow it didn't hook me the same as some of his other novels. However, I'm still going to keep going with Zola. Eventually, I hope to read the entire series, though I doubt I'll ever read them in order. And some of them are still only available in the Vizetelly translations which are terribly bowdlerized. I'm toying with the idea of taking up French so that I can read them in the original, though that's probably a drastic solution.
Has anyone else read The Masterpiece? What did you think? Any other favorites by Zola? I'd like to read another before the end of April, and I'm thinking of The Ladies' Paradise. Thoughts?
Saturday, April 6, 2013
One of the best things about Anthony Trollope is that he wrote 47 novels. It's also one of worst things about Trollope, because now I want to read all of them, which could seriously take me the rest of my life.
Anyway, I'm in an online group that wanted to read one of his novels, which is always great, but the book that selected was The American Senator. Sadly, it's not one of the many Trollope novels languishing on my bookshelves. If you've heard of The American Senator, you're probably a pretty hard-core Victorian lit lover (actually, if you've even heard of Trollope you're probably a hard-core Victorian lover!! Compared to Dickens or even Thomas Hardy, Trollope's books are barely a blip on the radar. And that's a real shame, because they are just wonderful. I loved this book.
The name of this book is really misleading, because the senator himself is actually a minor character. This is actually the story of two cousins, John and Reginald Morton, and like many Trollope novels, it's full of love triangles, class conflict, and some jabs at the British aristocracy. It's set against the backdrop of English country life, particularly the fox hunting season. John Morton, the heir, has been living abroad in America while working in the British foreign office, and returned to his estate, Bragton, with a party that includes his grandmother; his fiancee, Arabella Trefoil; her mother; Lady Augusta, and a visiting American Senator, Elias Gotobed.
John Morton is estranged from his second cousin Reginald, since Reginald's father married below his class to the daughter of a Canadian shopkeeper (gasp!) John's grandmother would not receive Reginald's mother, and was furious when Reginald inherited a small part of the estate. Reginald is close to his aunt, Lady Ushant. Years before, Lady Ushant had taken in a companion, young Mary Masters, daughter of the Morton's solicitor, Mr. Masters, a widower. Masters eventually remarried, and now Mary is back living with her father, stepmother, and half sisters, and is being courted by a local landowner, Larry Twentyman. Mrs. Masters is eager to settle Mary with Mr. Twentyman, though Mary is hesitating, because she's secretly in love with Reginald, whom she's known her entire life. As a Jane Austen devotee, I could see parallels between their relationship and Emma and Mr. Knightley. Mary's stepmother also reminded me an awful lot of Mrs. Bennet from Pride and Prejudice, though Mr. Masters is a much better father than Mr. Bennet.
Meanwhile, Arabella is jockeying for position between her suitors, and her strategy would make any politician proud. As I was writing this, it occurred to me that the fox hunt is sort of a metaphor for Arabella's search for a rich husband. She'll have to make bold moves to win the big prize, but if she's not careful, she could get left behind or thrown from a horse. The book actually reminded me a lot of the first season of Downton Abbey, when Lady Mary is trying to make the best possible match since she can't imagine marrying her cousin Matthew, heir to Downton -- especially the episode where they go fox hunting and she meets the ill-fated Mr. Pamuk. (If you haven't seen it, go out and watch it right now. Seriously!) The American Senator is set about forty years before Downton Abbey, but some of the themes are really familiar.
This story starts out slowly, giving background about the village and the county, and the complicated history of the Morton cousins, to which I had to refer several times since I couldn't get into the book at first and sort of lost the thread of all the characters and their relationships. But once I got going I was hooked and could hardly put it down. The plot really takes off and I think I read most of it in about three days, which is pretty fast for a Victorian triple-decker.
It's one of Trollope's comic novels and Arabella is a fascinating character, probably one of Trollope's most distinctive females. She makes no pretense about her social climbing, and she and her mother are just an awful pair. And they're funny. The way they snipe at each other is pretty hilarious.
I really enjoyed this book, but it's not my very favorite Trollope because I did find the beginning rather slow to get into, and also, I didn't really like the actual American Senator character. Trollope uses him to get up on a soapbox and has the character spout off about some the appointments of the clergy, the British Parliament, and also about some of the stuff that the aristocracy could get away with. I understand he wanted to make social commentary but sometimes it just felt awkward and forced, not very organic to the plot. Despite these minor flaws I just loved it and now I want to put everything else aside and just read more Trollope.
Anyone else out there reading Trollope? Which is your favorite? Besides this one, I've read The Barchester Chronicles and The Way We Live Now. Which one should I read next?
Monday, April 1, 2013
Tonight was my book group discussion of The Observations. I picked this book months ago because I'd been wanting to read it forever, and we hadn't read any historicals in a while. And I was kind of nervous because it isn't one of those books that seems to make the rounds in book discussion groups.
I didn't start reading it until last week -- whenever possible, I try not to read the books until a week or so before the discussion, since I forget too many details if I read it too far in advance. I had high hopes because one of the regulars came into the library last week and told me how much she'd enjoyed it. And then I started reading it. . . . and it was not exactly what I expected.
I'll back up, if you haven't heard much about it. Set in Scotland in 1863, The Observations is the story of Bessy, a young woman working as a domestic in a somewhat shabby estate. I knew the book was about Bessy's interactions with her mistress, Arabella, and I figured it would have a sort of neo-Victorian/Upstairs, Downstairs vibe to it. I love British fiction, love neo-Victorians, and with the Downton Abbey craze, what's not to like about the class warfare story?
Well, that's true, but there's a lot more to it than that. First of all, Bessy this book is really funny. Bessy is one of the most memorable, cheekiest narrators I've read in a book in a long time. However, there are some pretty dark elements in this book. When Bessy gets her job at this ramshackle manor, she's running away from a sordid past that gets explained in some pretty shocking flashbacks.
The story gets a little odder when Bessy's mistress asks her to do some unusual tasks for a domestic, including keeping a journal. How many maids (if they're even literate) have time to keep a journal in the 1860s? All is explained, but one of the funniest bits are the journal entries that Bessy writes for her employer, contrasted with what really happened. Plus, Bessy is so sassy and has such hilarious slang -- sadly, I've turned my copy in at the library and can't remember some of the best bits.
I personally enjoyed most of it, though I did think some parts dragged a bit, and there were some threads that seemed unresolved. Also, I was hoping for a little more drama with the ending. Parts of it reminded me of Fingersmith by Sarah Waters, one of my favorite books ever and probably the best neo-Victorian I've ever read. The Observations doesn't have quite the masterful plot of Fingersmith, but it's still a darn good read and I think Bessy is a brilliant character.
In 2011, Jane Harris also published another neo-Victorian, Gillespie and I, which will very likely be my next historical read. Has anyone else read this book? Any other neo-Victorians you recommend?
Wednesday, March 20, 2013
(Okay, it's not Tuesday, but I just posted, so this will have to wait a day or so.) First, I have to thank The Broke and The Bookish for this meme -- haven't done many memes lately but this one made me laugh. . . especially when I looked back on my postings and I did this list back in 2011!! And I've only read three books from the first list, one of which I tried and abandoned.
Well, to keep things fresh, here are another ten books I absolutely had to own . . . and still haven't read:
1. The Love Child by Edith Olivier. Read about this after many rave reviews, especially by Simon at Stuck in a Book. Ordered this and had it shipped from England -- from England, I tell you!!! Still haven't read it, more than two years later.
3. The Unknown Ajax by Georgette Heyer. In December of 2011, my library's Jane Austen book group had a Georgette Heyer discussion -- we didn't have enough copies of any single book, so everyone chose a different book and gave a booktalk. I read The Grand Sophy and absolutely loved it, and promptly read two more Heyer books in quick succession. Then I went out and bought The Unknown Ajax, and haven't read any Heyer since.
4. Millions Like Us: Women's Lives During the Second World War by Virginia Nicholson. Another book purchased from the UK after reading rave reviews on the blogosphere. I love reading about the War at Home, but I still haven't picked this one up. I'm currently obsessed with nonfiction so maybe I'll be inspired to read this one soon.
5. To Marry an English Lord by Gail MacColl and Carol Wallace. I didn't so much buy this one as hand it to my husband in a bookshop (not long after the first season of Downton Abbey) and strongly suggest he purchase it for my upcoming birthday. (I'm not very subtle about birthday gifts.) That was two years ago.
6. A Game of Hide and Seek by Elizabeth Taylor. See #5. Same trip to the bookstore, same birthday. I haven't read this one either!!!
7. Theatre by W. Somerset Maugham. Not long after reading The Painted Veil (and loving the film adaptation) I drove over to Barnes & Noble one night and couldn't decide if I should buy Theatre or A Christmas Holiday. So I bought both -- about four years ago!! I did read A Christmas Holiday and was underwhelmed. I have higher hopes for Theatre.
8. The Edwardians by Vita Sackville-West. Bought last year after watching the second season of Downton Abbey. (Do we see a pattern here?) This is actually the second copy, the first copy was all warped and I sent it back to Amazon in a fit of pique.
9. The New York Stories of Edith Wharton. A lovely NYRB books edition, bought before the Borders liquidation, but I'm sure I bought it at a discount with one of the multitudes of coupons they were forever giving me. I don't think I ever paid full price for anything at Borders, ever, and I'm sure their demise is partly my fault. I've put this one on my TBR Pile Challenge list for 2013, as an alternate, so I'm determined to finish it this year.
I still have almost 200 books unread on my shelves. Still, half the books I read last year came from my own shelves, which is not bad considering I work in the library and am faced with literary temptation more than 40 hours a week. At least I don't work in a bookstore!
And what about you, bloggers? Any books on those shelves you couldn't resist. . . and still haven't read?
Tuesday, March 19, 2013
In honor of the second annual DWJ March, I've written a guest post for Kristen at We Be Reading. She's posed the question: What makes Diana Wynne Jones magical?
Well, I don't know about everyone else, but the first thing I thought of was how Diana Wynne Jones is one of the brilliant children's authors whose works really stand the test of time. To me, she's just as good as J.K. Rowling. I read my first DWJ book, Dogsbody, years ago when I was in middle school. I probably picked it up because there was a dog on the cover, and even though I didn't get some of the British slang and references until years later, the story completely transported me. If you haven't read it, it's one of her first works, and a fantastic book.
Anyway, in Dogsbody, Sirius, the Dog Star, is not just a star, he's a sort of a celestial body personified. The story begins with Sirius on trial for murder by his peers, and he's sentenced to live a dog's life -- literally -- on Earth, unless he can find a mysterious object called the Zoi. Otherwise, he'll spend the rest of his natural life as a dog, and die here.
Sirius is reborn as a puppy, and is rescued from drowning and found by a lonely girl, Kathleen. Kathleen is Irish and is living an almost Cinderella-like existence with some horrible cousins in England, while her father is serving a prison sentence for his involvement with the IRA. Sirius is renamed Leo and is Kathleen's salvation, and as he grows, he becomes protective and attached to her as he searches for the Zoi. He becomes torn between his love for Kathleen and his desire to find the Zoi and return to his life as a celestial being.
DWJ is just brilliant at bringing characters to life. Kathleen is a sad orphan, but not sickly sweet, and the relatives who've taken her in are pretty horrible, rather like the Dursleys in the Harry Potter series. (Imagine, however, if the main character in Harry Potter never leaves Privet Drive, but is stuck there with a magic dog instead of escaping to the wizarding world of Hogwarts.)
|I have an autographed copy of this edition!! Really!!!|
It's a great story and I read it over and over as a child. I never could find any more books by Diana Wynne Jones -- back then we didn't have inter-library loan, and the bookstores in my town were pretty lame. I essentially forgot all about Diana Wynne Jones until 2005, when I spotted a copy of Howl's Moving Castle at a bookstore in a Japanese train station when we were stationed there -- I think it was in Kyoto. Every Japanese train station has a bookstore, but the supply of English-language books is pretty limited. I'm sure it was only available because the movie version had just been released, though I never got to see it on the big screen.
Anyway, since then I've read lots more Diana Wynne Jones books, and I've reread Dogsbody several times --it's just as good thirty years later! I'm pleased to see there's a new paperback edition with a brilliant introduction by Neil Gaiman. It's worth buying just for Gaiman's intro, which is very touching and got me all choked up.
I'm still trying to finish the complete works of Diana Wynne Jones, but one of the nicest things is that I share her books with my own children. My youngest is almost twelve and loves Howl, which just thrills me to bits. To me, any author that you can pass down to a new generation is the definition of magical.
This is cross-posted on Kristin's blog, We Be Reading.
Friday, March 15, 2013
I signed up for the TBR Pile Challenge again this year because I'm always trying to read those neglected books on my shelves. The best thing about it is that I find great books and say to myself, "why, why, WHY did I wait so long to read this???" Which, theoretically, could be the worst thing about it -- I end up kicking myself for not reading them sooner. But I suppose I should just be grateful that I finally did.
Corelli's Mandolin is just such a book. This was very popular about ten years ago, and it's #19 of the top 100 books in the BBC's Big Read survey. I bought my copy about 2002, while I was still living in Nebraska. (It's pretty easy for me to remember how long I've had books -- I just remember where I was living when I bought them. Since I move almost every three years, I can usually guess pretty accurately). It was one of the selections for my book group, and I started it and liked it, but something happened and I never got very far. I don't know why I never finished it.
Before I digress, here's the basic setup. Set in the early years of WWII on the Greek island of Cephalonia, this is the story of Dr. Iannis and his beautiful daughter Pelagia, and their experiences during and after the war, and of Antonio Corelli, and Italian officer who is billeted in their home after the Axis forces invade. However, it's much more than that. It's told in multiple viewpoints, so we get the glimpses into the experiences of Greek partisans, Italian soldiers, and even Mussolini himself. The book is both comic, tragic, and satirical, and explores the horrors of the war and its aftermath, and about human nature.
I really enjoyed this. I'd never read anything by de Bernieres, and I liked his writing style. I liked reading about the different characters and the shifting viewpoints, because there's so much going on in a war. I do wish there was more background on Corelli's character, and I was a bit disappointed in the ending (highlight if you want to read more): I just thought having Corelli magically reappear more than thirty years later was unrealistic -- if he'd really loved Pelagia, he probably would have found out that she wasn't married -- it seemed pretty lame. Also, what happened to him and how did he survive the rest of the war? There's so much that was unexplained, I felt like de Bernieres got tired of his character and didn't know what to do with him.
Last year, one of my favorite reads from the 2012 TBR Challenge was A Bell For Adano, which is about the American occupation of a small Italian town. I did see parallels with Corelli's Mandolin. Most of what I know about World War II is about Germany, England or America -- I know next to nothing about the war in other countries. Before Adano I knew nothing about the war in Italy, and before this book, nothing about the war in Greece. I'm still fascinated by World War II -- I suppose one could study it for an entire lifetime and still not know everything about it. I suppose that's why it's such a popular subject. I don't think there's any other war that has had more books published about it, except maybe the American Civil War.
I never saw the movie adaptation of Corelli's Mandolin, and I probably never will. I'll just say I tried very hard not to imagine Nicolas Cage in the lead role, because having read it, I think he was horribly miscast, though I'm sure Penelope Cruz was probably excellent as Pelagia. (And how do you pronounce that name anyway??)
Well. I'm pleased to have completed another book from my TBR list. Two down, ten to go! Is anyone else signed up for the TBR Pile Challenge? How are you doing? And has anyone seen the movie version of Corelli's Mandolin? What did you think?
Monday, March 4, 2013
Well, we got the results of our Classics Spin two weeks ago, and my selection is #14, The Mystery of Mrs. Blencarrow by Margaret Oliphant! Yes, the only Persephone on the list, and the third one I've read in two months.
This was a little different than most Persephones, because first of all, it's a Victorian, written in 1890, and secondly, because it's actually two novellas published together, each about 100 pages. (Persephone also published The Making of a Marchioness together with its sequel, but these two books stand alone, though they have related themes.)
First, a bit about Mrs. Blencarrow. Frankly, I can't say too much, because I'd basically give away the entire mystery -- though once the plot is set in motion, the answer is pretty obvious. Bascially, this is the story of a wealthy youngish widow, Mrs. Blencarrow, who lives on an estate with her children. She's got several children, and the oldest is nearly of age, so she can't be older than her late thirties. Mrs. B. is very self-possessed and well-respected, but in the first chapter, someone mentions that there is "something curious in Mrs. Blencarrow's eyes. . . . She looks you too full in the face with them, as if she were defying you to find out anything wrong about her." Well, heaven forbid -- she must be up to something!
What's interesting is how everyone reacts to their suspicions. Nasty rumors fly about, her brothers come rushing in to confront her -- it's very Victorian and overly dramatic to the 21st century reader. Mrs. Oliphant was obviously trying to make a point, and ultimately, it's poignant and sad.
|The beautiful endpapers from The Mystery of Mrs. Blencarrow|
The second novella in the volume is Queen Eleanor and Fair Rosamond. Published in 1886, this is also a story about a strong female character, a married woman named Mrs. Lycett-Landon, the wife of a wealthy Liverpool businessman, again with a houseful of children. Mr. Lycett-Landon is forever traveling back and forth between London and Liverpool, and though the family appears quite happy from the outside, they're always a little happier when Mr. LL is away on business. Gradually he spends less and less time in Liverpool and hints are dropped, and his wife decides to do a little digging, with some shocking (to her) results.
Again, not so much a mystery to modern readers -- I could guess the plot twist almost immediately -- but maybe it was for Victorian readers. I preferred the second story. I also appreciated that the publishers included an afterward instead of a forward -- I hate it when publishes spoil the plot, I rarely read introductions until after I've finished the story.
Anyway, the afterward includes some background and insights into the novellas and the author. Mrs. Oliphant was a Scottish widow, a woman with very little education who became a prolific writer during the Victorian era. She began publishing novels when she was 21, and her finished works totaled more than 100, which is astonishing for a woman writer in that era. At the time, she was as well known as Dickens, Trollope, and Eliot, though few of her works are still in print. Besides this one, I think the only other one currently in print is Miss Marjoribanks, which is still on my to-read shelf. It's quite long but now I'm inspired to read it and will hopefully get to it by the end of the year.
This also counts as my 19th Century Classic for the Back to the Classics Challenge 2013.