Tuesday, April 13, 2021
Sunday, April 11, 2021
- La Debacle by Emile Zola
- La Debacle
- Jenny Wren by E. H. Young
- Jenny Wren
- Ralph the Heir by Anthony Trollope
- A Few Green Leaves by Barbara Pym
- A Few Green Leaves
- The World My Wilderness by Rose Macauley
- The World My Wilderness
- The Little Ottleys by Ada Leverson
- The Little Ottleys
- Invitation to the Waltz by Rosamond Lehmann
- Invitation to the Waltz
- A Pin to See the Peepshow by F. Tennyson Jesse
- A Pin to See the Peepshow
- Mandoa, Mandoa! by Winifred Holtby
- Westwood by Stella Gibbons
- My American by Stella Gibbons
- The Caravaners by Elizabeth von Arnim
- The Caravaners
Friday, April 2, 2021
I knew that as long as there was a hope for the future somewhere I would not stop trying to reach it. I looked at my brother and Alfredo and knew that I would never stay with them, to rot and perish in their world of brutality and despair. I knew that I wanted something which would ease my fear and stop my flight from dawn to dawn.
I really feel it's important to read more classics by people of color, so last year I decided to make that a permanent category in the annual Back to the Classics Challenge. I know I don't read nearly enough books by nonwhite authors, and this year I really wanted to read a classic by an Asian author. I was really happy to discover America Is in the Heart by Carlos Bulosan, a Filipino-American author. It's a really personal connection to me because my husband is Filipino, and I'm always trying to learn more about his culture.
Published in 1946, this semi-autobiographical novel is the story of Carlos, a young man from the rural Philippines who tries make a better life for himself in America. It's been compared to The Grapes of Wrath, and since Steinbeck is one of my favorite writers, I was even more intrigued.
The story begins after World War I, when young Carlos is just a boy and his oldest brother returns to the family in Binalonan after several years' absence as a soldier. The family struggles to keep the family farm and pay for the education of another brother, Macario -- basically, the only way out of poverty. The family endures hardship and heartbreak, and Carlos is badly injured more than once, just trying to make a little extra money to keep from losing their land. They are too poor for him to go to school regularly but he picks up what education he can, and reads on his own.
At just 17, Carlos makes his way to America, but there are few jobs for Filipinos other than canning factories and migrant work, picking crops. He makes his way up and down the West Coast, from Alaska to California, sometimes barely managing to stay alive. Eventually he reconnects with Macario and another brother who had previously emigrated. Carlos also gets involved with Filipino union organizers who are fighting for better working conditions. His English improves and he also begins writing. However, the attempts to organize labor unions is violently opposed, and Carlos and the other organizers are constantly threatened by arrest and violence. He also becomes ill with tuberculosis and at one point is hospitalized for two years.
This was a tough read for me. The writing isn't difficult, but it was really painful to read about how badly Carlos and the other minorities were treated -- terrible working conditions, no benefits, unable to find housing in any place but the worst parts of town, unable to own property, unable to become a citizen. The racism is just appalling. For me, it was even worse than reading about the Joads in The Grapes of Wrath because at least the Joads had some rights -- and they wouldn't be subjected to generations of racist bigotry because of the color of their skin. It's so infuriating that Filipinos and other Asians had so few rights -- Asians weren't allowed to become US citizens until the 1940s, and there were still immigration quotas until 1965.
It's not a long book, 327 pages in my edition, and there are lot of very short chapters. But the subject was so difficult to read that it took me a long time to finish for such a short book. This did make it harder to keep some of the recurring characters straight -- Carlos would run into an old friend or colleague and I couldn't always remember how they'd met. But I'm really glad I finished it. Immigrant stories are really important and this was especially personal to me.
I glanced out of the window again to look at the broad land I had dreamed so much about, only to discover with astonishment that the American earth was like a huge heart unfolding warmly to receive me. I felt it spreading through my being, warming with its glowing reality. It came to me that no man -- no one at all -- could destroy my faith in America again. . . . It was something that grew out of the sacrifices and loneliness of my friends, of my brothers in America and my family in the Philippines -- something that grew out of our desire to know America, and to become a part of her great tradition, and to contribute something toward her final fulfillment. I knew that no man could destroy my faith in American that had sprung from all our hopes and aspirations, ever.
I'm counting this as my Classic by a BIPOC author for the Back to the Classics Challenge.
Wednesday, March 24, 2021
Saturday, March 20, 2021
Of the many recent novels he had devoured very few had struck him as really important; and of these The Corner Grocery was easily first. Among dozens of paltry books pushed into notoriety it was the only one entitled to such distinction. Readers all over the country had felt its evident sincerity, and its title had become the proverbial epithet of the smalltown atmosphere.
Some of the novels people talked about most excitedly--Price of Meat, say, already in its seventieth thousand, or Egg Omelette, which had owed its start to pulpit denunciations and the quarrel of a Prize Committee over its exact degree of indecency--well, he had begun both books with enthusiasm, as their authors appeared to have; and then, at a certain point, had felt the hollowness underfoot, and said to himself: "No, life's not like that, people are not like that. The real stuff is way down, not on the surface."
I'm just guessing, but I think that The Corner Grocery is a reference to Main Street by Sinclair Lewis (which lost the Pulitzer Prize to Wharton's Age of Innocence in 1920 because the committee thought it was unflattering to small-town America). Could Price of Meat be The Jungle by Upton Sinclair? And I originally thought that Egg Omelette was a reference to West Egg in The Great Gatsby, but further research told me it's meant to be Ulysses by James Joyce. There are also multiple references to the Pulsifer Prize . . . what could that possibly be?
There's also a mention of Zola that I found delightful:
Nothing else new about him--might have worked up his method out of Zola. Probably did."
"Zola--who's he?" somebody yawned.
"Oh, I dunno. The French Thackeray, I guess."
"See here, fellows, who's read Thackeray, anyhow?"
"Nobody since Lytton Strachey, I guess."
Wednesday, March 10, 2021
|Nice cover on this German edition. |
Could it be Lake Como or Lake Geneva?
The Star Above the Forest: A waiter falls in love with an unobtainable countess. One of the shortest stories, but heartbreaking, beautiful prose.
I'm both glad I finally got around to reading this, and annoyed with myself for waiting so long! I definitely want to read more Zweig. I've also read The Post-Office Girl and Chess Story, both of which I loved, and I still have Beware of Pity unread on my TBR shelves -- might save it for next year's European Reading Challenge! I'm also tempted to buy his Collected Novellas and some of his other works published by Pushkin Press. I had actually resolved not to buy any new books this year but I do have a birthday coming up in a few months!
Sunday, February 28, 2021
Monday, February 22, 2021
|I love this first edition cover, very folk-art influenced.|
Eventually William joins the Navy under the Le Tournel patronage, and ends up in New Zealand. After a long absence, he writes a long impassioned letter to Mr. Le Tournel asking for the hand of his daughter in marriage. However, he's extremely drunk at the time, and accidentally writes the wrong daughter's name in the letter, and is shocked months later when a different woman arrives. The rest of the book is the repercussions of William's split-second decision. Will he marry the wrong sister, and how will it affect all three lives?
|It's a bit blurry, but so Dickensian I had to include it.|
Also, I think there could have been more character development -- I really didn't always understand what motivated the characters, and what explained their actions. I started to really dislike Marianne, who just seemed bossy and manipulative. I like strong female characters but it almost seemed like this was meant to be a bad thing. The book was published in 1944, and I don't know if Elizabeth Goudge was anti-feminist but that's the impression I started to get.
|A 1965 paperback edition|
|Love this pulp fiction edition! So dramatic!|
Thursday, February 18, 2021
Victorian sensation is my kind of escapist fiction -- normally chock-full of over-the-top swooning, scandal, mistaken identities, dubious women, and rascally men. The Doctor's Wife by Mary Elizabeth Braddon is oddly lacking in the most dramatic elements -- and yet it is one of my favorites of the genre so far.
Published in 1864, the story begins with the short history of George Gilbert, a young surgeon, son of one of two local doctors in Graybridge-on-the-Wayverne, a fictional town in the fictional county of Midlandshire. He is expected to take over for his elderly father someday, and though a local brewer's daughter has been making eyes at him, he's not interested. While visiting an old school friend on a whirlwind week in London, he meets Isabel Sleaford, daughter of his mate's landlady, and his life is forever changed.
Isabel is seventeen, dreamy and romantic, and lives for the novels and poetry that fill up her time when she isn't helping her stepmother take care of her multiple half-siblings, their boarders, and her unscrupulous father. George is instantly smitten with lovely Isabel, unlike any girl he'd ever met. I instantly adored young Smith, who was christened Sam but has changed his name to the more literary Sigismund. Clearly, he's a stand-in for Braddon herself, and the novel is full of delightful references to the writer's process.
Perhaps there never was a wider difference between two people than that which existed between Isabel Sleaford and her mother's boarder. Sigsimund wrote romantic fictions by wholesale, and yet was as unromantic as the prosiest butcher that ever entered a cattle-market. He sold his imagination, and Isabel lived upon hers. To him romance was something which must be woven into the form most likely to suit the popular demand. He slapped his heroes into marketable shape, as coolly as a butterman slaps a pat of butter into the semblance of a swan or a crown, in accordance with the requirements of his customers. But poor Isabel's heroes were impalpable tyrants, and ruled her life. She wanted to be like her books; she wanted to be a heroine -- unhappy, perhaps, and dying early.
|Great cover on this yellowback edition.|
But the acquaintance is cut short when the Sleaford family literally disappear in the middle of the night to escape creditors -- George and his friend Smith, a budding novelist, are lucky to escape without losing their own luggage. George is disappointed to cut the acquaintance with Isabel short, and a year later, he's thrilled to get a letter from Smith saying Isabel is now settled nearby, working as a governess for a distant relative. George wastes no time meeting with her and pops the question ASAP.
Sadly, though, Isabel realizes on her honeymoon that she's made a mistake -- George is far to pragmatic and thrifty for a dreamy, romantic girl. She is quickly bored to death in the country with little to do and doesn't get on well in local society, who are scandalized that George didn't marry a local girl.
He had married this girl because she was unlike other women; and now that she was his own property, he set himself conscientiously to work to smooth her into the most ordinary semblance of every-day womanhood, by means of that moral flat-iron called common sense.
A few months later Isabel is thrilled to meet a real Byronic hero -- the dark and handsome Roland Lansdell, heir to Mordred Priory, recently returned to the neighborhood from the Continent. He is everything that Isabel has ever dreamed of -- dark, handsome, moody, and a poet! He's handsome, bored, and rich, she's beautiful, bored and married -- what could possibly go wrong?
Naturally, what follows is a trainwreck for everyone -- a bit like an English Madame Bovary, but if Emma Bovary were more sympathetic. I knew it wouldn't end well, but what was interesting for me was how Braddon got to the end of the story -- there were some twists and turns that I wasn't expecting and took me completely by surprise. There were less of the inevitable dramatic tropes one normally finds in Victorian sensation novels, and I've since learned that Braddon was determined to write a more literary novel.
I really enjoyed The Doctor's Wife and I'd rank it as one of Braddon's best -- different than Lady Audley's Secret, but good in its own way. It was a bit closer to early Thomas Hardy than Wilkie Collins. I was really sympathetic to all the main characters and found some of the side characters really endearing, especially Smith who gives the reader such wonderful insights into the mind of the writer:
|Portrait of M. E. Braddon by William Powell Frith, 1865|
And if I were a young lady," continued Mr. Smith, speaking with some slight hesitation, and glancing furtively at Isabel's face,—"if I were a young lady, and had a kind of romantic fancy for a person I ought not to care about, I'll tell you what I'd do with him,—I'd put him into a novel, Izzie, and work him out in three volumes; and if I wasn't heartily sick of him by the time I got to the last chapter, nothing on earth would cure me."
Monday, February 15, 2021
It's never too late to sign up for another challenge, is it? Once again, I'm signing up for the Victorian Reading Challenge at Becky's Book Reviews. Last year my Victorian reading was surprisingly low -- only ten altogether, including two rereads, two neo-Victorians, and two non-fiction. Hopefully this challenge will increase my Victorian reading this year.
There are two participation levels. I'm signing up for the advanced level, four to six books over eleven months. There are themes every month and I'm sure I can find books to fit most of them. Ideally I'd love to read mostly books from my own shelves. I still have more than a dozen unread Victorians, below.
Here are the monthly themes:
January/Feb: Adaptations: Any book that's been adapted to movies or TV, or that should be adapted. (Will probably skip this one as I'm running out of time.)
February/March: Love & Marriage: The Doctor's Wife by Mary Elizabeth Braddon -- I've already finished this one, review to follow this week!
March/April: Journeys and Travels: Something by Isabella Bird, a renowned Victorian woman traveler. Or The Bertrams by Anthony Trollope. He also wrote some travel nonfiction, so that's a possibility too.
April/May: Second Chances. Give a book or an author a second chance. Something by Mrs. Oliphant, or The Real Charlotte. Might also read one of Trollope's Irish novels.
May/June: Favorite Author, New-To-Me Book. Again, Mrs. Oliphant, Trollope, or Hardy.
June/July: Nonfiction: Period Piece by Gwen Raverat, or A London Family by Molly Hughes.
July/August: Names as Titles: Marcella by Mrs. Humphrey Ward, or one of several books by Trollope: Ralph the Heir; The MacDermots of Ballycloran; The Kellys and the O'Kellys; Harry Heathcote of Gangoil.
August/September: Back to School: something you were assigned at school, or think should be assigned. I wasn't a lit major so the only Victorian novels I read in school were Great Expectations, Jane Eyre, and The Mill on the Floss. I loathed The Mill on the Floss so maybe I should give it another go and see if I appreciate it more as an adult?
September/October: Crime or True Crime: Lots of great true crime stories about the Victorian period! I have at least seven or eight on my TBR list. Maybe Murder in the First-Class Carriage by Kate Colquhoun or Murder by the Book by Claire Harman.
October/November: Home and Family: East Lynne by Mrs. Henry Wood; The Clever Woman of the Family by Charlotte Yonge; or A London Family.
November/December: Comfort Reads: A London Family or Trollope.
Super-Bonus Theme: Bearded Victorians. I suppose this means read anything by a bearded Victorian?
So - those are my possible reads. Any suggestions for other Victorians? And which author has the best beard?