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?
Thursday, February 11, 2021
Politicians have decided that since it's worked for the UK for so many years, it would be good for tourism and distract the public so they can get on with the business of governing. Much to his chagrin, Pippin is forced to move in to Versailles and go through with a coronation. Meanwhile, his bohemian daughter Clotilde has taken up with a Tod, young American tourist, heir to a vast chicken-farming fortune.
Pippin hates the role instantly and is desperate to get out of the drafty palace and its hangers-on, and back to his beloved telescope. He finds solace and advice from some colorful side characters -- his uncle Charles, an antique dealer of dubious morals; and Sister Hyacinthe, his wife's old schoolmate, a former chorus girl who took the veil after retirement. He also finds comfort and insight from young Tod, who makes a mean Martini and is terribly insightful for one so young.
This was a pleasant diversion, though there was more politics that I really wanted right now. I enjoyed the characters and there were some amusing bits, but the plot's not terribly strong. I finished it only a week ago and I've already forgotten the ending. I'm not terribly surprised that this one isn't as popular as the other Steinbeck novellas, it seems sort of dated.