The Bluestocking Literary Society

A blog about books written by women

Nightingale Wood by Stella Gibbons

Nightingale Wood by Stella GibbonsNightingale Wood by Stella Gibbons
on 1938
Genres: Literary Fiction, Romance
Pages: 387
Goodreads
three-half-stars

Unavailable for decades, Stella Gibbons's Nightingale Wood is a delightfully modern romance ripe for rediscovery by the many fans of Cold Comfort Farm.

Poor, lovely Viola has been left penniless and alone after her late husband's demise, and is forced to live with his family in their joy­less home. Its occupants are nearly insufferable: Mr. Withers is a tyrannical old miser; Mrs. Withers dismisses her as a common shop girl; and Viola's sisters-in-law, Madge and Tina, are too preoccupied with their own troubles to give her much thought. Only the prospect of the upcoming charity ball can lift her spirits-especially as Victor Spring, the local prince charming, will be there. But Victor's intentions towards the young widow are, in short, not quite honorable.

I have not read Gibbons’s most famous novel, Cold Comfort Farm. One of my goodreads groups focuses on dead authors, and we are doing a genre challenge, so this novel won the poll for our February romance genre group read. I fell in love with the cover, and being completely shallow, I was excited to read.

Nightingale Wood was published in 1938, prior to the beginning of WWII, and is set near the end of the interwar period. It is marketed as a Cinderella-style tale. There are three main female leads: Viola (the Cinderella of this tale), Tina, and Hetty. Viola is the widow of Teddy Wither, who is brother to Tina and the rather awful Madge, who bears more than a passing resemblance to Marge Dursley, from her over-sized, inelegant tweed-clad frame, to her obsession with dogs.

My favorite character is the bookish Hetty, cousin of the charming Victor, who lives at Grasmere. Viola, Tina and Madge all live at the neighboring manse, The Eagles. I really love books set during this time period – it was period of immense social and cultural change, and these changes make for great fiction. The roles of girls and women are in constant flux.

Of the three female leads, Tina has, for me, the most satisfying romance. Lady Chatterly style, she takes up with the chauffeur, Saxon. Saxon is an interesting character – he is ambitions, talented, and quite the up-and-comer. She is a full dozen years older than Saxon, and is both wily and unconventional. The resolution of their story is convincingly lovely, in spite of the obstacles they overcome to find happiness.

Viola is a bit of a wet hen – conventionally dissolving into tears at the drop of the hat. But, she rallies nicely to help out an old friend, and her happy ending is both deserved and pleasing, if not very romantic.

Hetty was my favorite character, but her romance was the least satisfying – volatile and capricious. I would have loved a full length book with Hetty as the main character, and I was not pleased with the way that her story ended.

I enjoyed this one enough to seek out more books by Gibbons.

three-half-stars

The Song of the Lark by Willa Cather

The Song of the Lark by Willa CatherThe Song of the Lark by Willa Cather
Published by Vintage Classics on 1915
Genres: Classics - by women
Pages: 448
Source: Purchased: print book
Goodreads

"The time will come when she will be ranked above Hemingway." --Leon Edel

In this powerful portrait of the self-making of an artist, Willa Cather created one of her most extraordinary heroines. Thea Kronborg, a minister's daughter in a provincial Colorado town, seems destined from childhood for a place in the wider world. But as her path to the world stage leads her ever farther from the humble town she can't forget and from the man she can't afford to love, Thea learns that her exceptional musical talent and fierce ambition are not enough.

It is in the solitude of a tiny rock chamber high in the side of an Arizona cliff--"a cleft in the heart of the world"--that Thea comes face to face with her own dreams and desires, stripped clean by the haunting purity of the ruined cliff dwellings and inspired by the whisperings of their ancient dust. Here she finds the courage to seize her future and to use her gifts to catch "the shining, elusive element that is life itself--life hurrying past us and running away, too strong to stop, too sweet to lose." In prose as shimmering and piercingly true as the light in a desert canyon, Cather takes us into the heart of a woman coming to know her deepest self.

Willa in Winter 2

Richly imagined, Cather’s third novel is an exploration of the passion of the artist and the strength of youth. Her main character, Thea Kronborg, child of immigrants from Moonstone, Colorado, has all of the brazen energy and boundless potential of her prairie town. She is the exceptional child in a family of many children, the others quite ordinary, a girl so relentlessly herself that the triumphant arc of her life has a feeling of inevitability, in spite of the many obstacles that she must overcome with the force of her mind and character.

The early part of the book concentrates on her time spent in Moonstone. Even as a child, many of her friends and acquaintances seem to recognize in Thea something to be nurtured. Dr. Archie, the unhappily married town doctor, introduces her to great writers, and spends time with her – in an entirely uncreepy way, thankfully – helping her intellectual development along. Her mother ensures that she has what music lessons are available, and private space in which to practice, which is a luxury in a home of at least five children. Thea herself possesses all of the engaging hubris of the child, confident in her future.

Of this child, laying in her attic room, at home, Cather says:

Life rushed in upon her from that window – or so it seemed. In reality, of course, life rushes from within not without. There is no work of art so big or so beautiful that it was not once contained within some youthful body, like this one which lay on the floor in the moonlight, pulsing with ardour and anticipation. [page 129]

Thea is a character who bursts with possibility. I can’t help but contrast Cather’s writing with Edith Wharton, another woman who was writing very different books at nearly the same time, and compare Thea to Lily Bart. Where Lily is frozen and constricted, an expensive piece of carved marble, Thea is red-blooded and expansive, fully human. Where Wharton’s characters are limited by complicated societal rules, Cather’s characters, like her landscape, are boundless and free.

When Thea is 15, her family, along with Dr. Archie, arrange for her to leave Moonstone to study music in Chicago, after she inherits a small life insurance policy from a friend. She finds herself on the train, headed east:

She smiled — although she was ashamed of it — with the natural contempt of strength for weakness, with the sense of physical security which makes the savage merciless. Nobody could die while he felt like that inside. The springs there were wound so tight that it would be a long while before there was any slack in them. The life in there was rooted deep. She was going to have a few things before she died. She realized that there were a great many trains dashing east and west on the face of the continent that night, and that they all carried yong people who meant to have things. But the difference was that she was going to get them! That was all. Let people try to stop her! She glowered at the rows of feckless bodies that lay sprawled in the chairs. Let them try it once! [page 200]

Thea bursts off the page, with her her self-confidence, her fearlessness, and her prodigious talent. Cather writes the western experience better than any other author I have ever encountered, with the possible exception of Wallace Stegner. Growing up under open skies has an impact on her characters, and she ensures that the reader understands this. You look at the world differently when you’ve lived in a place where you can stand and mark the curve of the world untouched by signs of civilization.

It was over flat lands like this, stretching out to drink the sun, that the larks sang — and one’s heart sang there, too. Thea was glad that this was her country, even if one did not learn to speak elegantly there. It was, somehow, an honest country, and there was a new song in that blue air which had never been sung in the world before. [page 202]

Her time in Chicago moves her further along the path to musical success, and one of her teachers discovers that rather than piano, it is her voice that is truly remarkable. Ultimately, over the next several sections of the book, Thea leaves Chicago, studies in Germany, and returns to New York a fully-fledged opera singer. I am again reminded of Wharton – her Pulitzer Prize winning novel The Age of Innocence begins in an opera house, where Newland Archer is knuckling under to the societal pressure that he must marry, and he must marry a young woman who is, in many ways, the polar opposite of Thea Kronborg. When Cather speaks to Thea through Fred Ottenburg, Thea’s married lover and greatest supporter, she might be speaking about May Welland:

Don’t you know that most of the people in the world are not individuals at all? They never have an individual idea or experience. A lot of girls go to boarding school together, come out the same season, dance at the same parties, are married off in groups, have their babies at about the same time, send their children to school together, and so the human crop renews itself. Such women know as much about the reality of the forms they go through as they know about the wars they learned the dates of. They get their most personal experiences out of novels and plays. Everything is second hand with them. Why, you couldn’t live like that.” [page 327]

Among Cather’s longest books, The Song of the Lark moves quickly through Thea’s development as an artist and represents a remarkable character study of a young woman who is unbowed by convention. As I continue with my Willa in Winter project, I plan to return to some of the themes that Cather is developing in this book, as my understanding deepens through further reading. I’ll end this review with Thea’s words:

She rose impatiently and walked to the edge of the cliff. “It’s waking up every morning with the feeling that your life is your own, and your strength is your own, and your talent is your own; that you’re all there, and there’s no sag in you.” [page 290].

I can’t help but feel that Willa Cather had no sag in her, either.

Jane of Lantern Hill by L.M. Montgomery

Jane of Lantern Hill by L.M. MontgomeryJane of Lantern Hill on 1937
Genres: Classics - by women, Virago Modern Classics
Pages: 288
Goodreads
four-half-stars

From the author of Anne of Green Gables, the enchanting story of a young girl's dream to reunite with her long-divided family

For as long as she could remember, Jane Stuart and her mother lived with her grandmother in a dreary mansion in Toronto. Jane always believed her father was dead—until she accidentally learned he was alive and well and living on Prince Edward Island. When Jane spends the summer at his cottage on Lantern Hill, doing all the wonderful things Grandmother deems unladylike, she dares to dream that there could be such a house back in Toronto—a house where she, Mother, and Father could live together without Grandmother directing their lives—a house that could be called home.

I actually read this one during the October read-a-thon and never got around to writing up a post. I’ve read a lot of L.M. Montgomery: the entire Anne Shirley series (more than once) and the Emily Starr series (time for a reread, I think). I picked up Jane of Lantern Hill, at least in part, because of the cover. I like pretty things. It is just as pretty in person as it is on a computer screen, by the way. And, as a total aside, I am so impressed with the Virago Classics because they are clean and well-edited. No one grabbed an old public domain version and OCR’d it and then slapped a cover on it and hit publish.

Back to Jane.

I loved this book. Jane reminds me a lot of Little Elizabeth, from Anne of Windy Poplars, but all grown up. She is living in Toronto, with her rather weak-spirited, beaten down mother, and her deeply angry grandmother, who still hasn’t gotten over the fact that her daughter went off and abandoned her to, (ungrateful child), get married and have a daughter of her own. L.M. Montgomery’s method of dealing with the problem of separating father and mother is fairly convenient, and is quite similar to how she separated Miss Lavender and Paul’s father in the Anne series. They get into a fight, and instead of acting like reasonable adults, mother takes baby and flees home, where grandmother spends more than a decade interfering in reconciliation. This is all set up to explain Jane’s sterile and unloved life in Toronto. Grandmother is wealthy, so she wants for nothing material or physical, but spiritually and emotionally, she is completely bereft. And Montgomery makes a convincing case that true happiness is dependent much more on wealth of spirit and love than it is on having nice stuff.

The book really comes into its own when Jane goes off to spend a summer with her father in Lantern Hill. Her adventures are charming. Her father is a writer, and cannot provide Jane with the material comforts of home, but with him, she receives much greater gifts: freedom, self-sufficiency, love and true friendship. She does not have the imagination of the bewitching Anne Shirley, or the literary talent and ambition of Emily Starr, but she has a homelike sweetness that is endearing.

I don’t believe that Montgomery ever wrote a sequel to Jane of Lantern Hill, which is unfortunate, because it would have been worth reading!

four-half-stars

The Voyage Out by Virginia Woolf

The Voyage Out by Virginia WoolfThe Voyage Out by Virginia Woolf
on 1915
Genres: Classics - by women
Pages: 375
Source: Purchased: print book
Goodreads
four-stars

Woolf’s first novel is a haunting book, full of light and shadow. It takes Mr. and Mrs. Ambrose and their niece, Rachel, on a sea voyage from London to a resort on the South american coast. “It is a strange, tragic, inspired book whose scene is a South americanca not found on any map and reached by a boat which would not float on any sea, an americanca whose spiritual boundaries touch Xanadu and Atlantis”

My personal experiences with Virginia Woolf have historically been fraught. I want to love her – she is iconic, so important in the pantheon of women in literature and feminism that she very nearly stands alone. But she is also impenetrable, a cipher for which I, sadly, lack the necessary decoder ring with which to make sense of her. Her writing is achingly, heartstoppingly beautiful, and yet I find that I understand almost none of it.

It was with some delight, then, that I began reading her first, and most autobiographical, novel, The Voyage Out. Written in narrative style that makes sense to my admittedly limited brain (i.e., linear) it contains her trademark gorgeous language. There is so much in it to admire, as well. Rachel, the main character, is an interesting character – a young woman who has been sheltered from everything except music, the product of a strange upbringing in an oppressive society. One of the matronly characters says about Rachel:

This girl, though twenty-four, had never heard that men desired women, and, until I explained it, did not know how children were born. Her ignorance upon other matters as important” (here Mrs. Ambrose’s letter may not be quoted) . . . “was complete. It seems to me not merely foolish but criminal to bring people up like that. Let alone the suffering to them, it explains why women are what they are—the wonder is they’re no worse. I have taken it upon myself to enlighten her, and now, though still a good deal prejudiced and liable to exaggerate, she is more or less a reasonable human being. Keeping them ignorant, of course, defeats its own object, and when they begin to understand they take it all much too seriously.

Woolf approaches feminist ideas obliquely, through several characters. Mrs. Ambrose, above, talking about the sheltering of women. Mr. Dalloway (yes, that Mr. Dalloway), talking about suffragettes:

“Oh, I’m entirely with you there,” said Dalloway. “Nobody can condemn the utter folly and futility of such behaviour more than I do; and as for the whole agitation, well! may I be in my grave before a woman has the right to vote in England! That’s all I say.” The solemnity of her husband’s assertion made Clarissa grave. “It’s unthinkable,” she said. “Don’t tell me you’re a suffragist?”

Or, this quote, from the young man who ends up as Rachel’s love interest:

“I’ve often walked along the streets where people live all in a row, and one house is exactly like another house, and wondered what on earth the women were doing inside,” he said. “Just consider: it’s the beginning of the twentieth century, and until a few years ago no woman had ever come out by herself and said things at all. There it was going on in the background, for all those thousands of years, this curious silent unrepresented life.

This curious silent unrepresented life. This isn’t entirely true, of course, because women have been part of fiction since fiction was written, although their stories were primarily told by men. But, still, it is true, right? Women did not lead public lives, in the same sense that men did. Their lives were entirely private, lived out in the quiet, domestic domain. She talks a great deal about loneliness, about the way that people live out their lives in solitary fashion, even when surrounded by others.

The Voyage Out takes a turn late in the book, into something that, given that it was written by Woolf, I might have expected. But, I didn’t. I won’t say more, because I don’t want to spoil. But, for readers who struggle with Woolf, this book is a good place to begin.

four-stars

Alexander’s Bridge by Willa Cather

Alexander’s Bridge by Willa CatherAlexander's Bridge by Willa Cather
Published by Vintage Classics on 1912
Genres: Classics - American, Classics - by women
Pages: 144
Source: Purchased: print book
Goodreads
three-half-stars

Alexander’s Bridge, Willa Cather’s first novel, is a taut psychological drama about the fragility of human connections. Published in 1912, just a year before O Pioneers! made Cather’s name, it features high society on an international stage rather than the immigrant prairie characters she later became known for. The successful and glamorous life of Bartley Alexander, a world-renowned engineer and bridge builder, begins to unravel when he encounters a former lover in London. As he shuttles among his wife in Boston, his old flame in London, and a massive bridge he is building in Canada, Alexander finds himself increasingly tormented. But the threatened collapse of his marriage presages a more fatal catastrophe, one he will risk his life to try to prevent.

Willa in Winter 2

Barely more than a novella, Alexander’s Bridge is Cather’s first novel. It is always interesting to see the seeds of genius in an author’s early work, and this book is primarily interesting for that reason. The story itself is a bit of wish-fulfillment: set internationally, in London, Canada and New York, the main character Bartley Alexander is a man of accomplishment.

The preface to my edition was written by Willa Cather herself, in 1922, and beings:

It is difficult to comply with the publisher’s request that I write a preface for this new edition of an early book. Alexander’s Bridge was my first novel, and does not deal with the kind of subject matter in which I now find myself most at home. The people and the places of the story interested me intensely at the time when it was written, because they were new to me and were in themselves attractive. Alexander’s Bridge was written in 1911, and O Pioneers! the following year. The difference in quality in the two books is an illustration of the fact that it is not always easy for the inexperienced writer to distinguish between his own material and that which he would like to make his own.

The preface goes on from there, in the same insightful vein. Two things jump out at me in this passage. First, Cather herself is able to acknowledge that this book is qualitatively less as compared to her next book. I’ve not read O Pioneers!, although I plan to and soon, but having read My Antonia, One of Ours and Death Comes for the Archbishop, all later, and very different, works, I am in total agreement with her assessment. She did grow as a writer, and a great deal. I’m also fascinated by the fact that she referred to the writer in the masculine, when she herself is a woman, and is more or less talking about herself.

With respect to this book, it is worth reading because it was written by Willa Cather and Willa Cather is always worth reading. Having said that, she is at her best when she is writing about the prairie and men and women who are eking out a hardscrabble life on it. She is able to imbue their struggle with a nobility and beauty that is unique to Cather.

This book is ordinary, by comparison. It tells a story that, in essence, has been told hundreds of times before by dozens of skilled writers – a story of a wealthy man who builds great things in great cities, and who finds himself undergoing a rather trite and somewhat embarrassing midlife crisis that is inconsistent with his greatness. The middle aged man with feet of clay is a story that has been told before, and Cather brings little new or fresh to it. Bartley Alexander’s struggles with his penis and where he wants to put it, and his commonplace experience of being torn between two lovers, feeling like a fool, are as yawningly boring as the 1976 pop song that tells the same story, or the guy that you know on Facebook who just dumped his wife of twenty years for the girl he knew in high school because his wife just doesn’t understand him.

Conclusion: It’s Cather, so, yeah, it’s good. But her other stuff is so much better.

And, as an aside, these Vintage Classics editions are completely gorgeous!

three-half-stars

Back to the Classics 2016

BackToTheClassics2016

This will be my third year doing the Back to the Classics challenge and this year, I am adding a twist in honor of the Classics Club Women’s Classic Literature Event. I am reading only women authors. I should also probably acknowledge up front that there is every likelihood that I will completely change my list before the end of the challenge.

A note on category 11 – I graduated from high school more than 30 years ago, and have little to no recollection of anything I read during that time period. I’m just guessing on Jane Eyre. I’ve read that one since I began blogging, so, if I can come up with something else that I think I read, I will probably substitute. In any case, it’s pretty much a crapshoot at this point.

Back to the Classics is hosted by Karen, at Karen’s Books and Chocolate. Her sign-up post is here.

But, as a first crack at the challenge, here goes:

1. A 19th Century Classic:

Tenant of Wildfell Hall The Tenant of Wildfell Hall by Anne Bronte.

Gilbert Markham is deeply intrigued by Helen Graham, a beautiful and secretive young widow who has moved into nearby Wildfell Hall with her young son. He is quick to offer Helen his friendship, but when her reclusive behavior becomes the subject of local gossip and speculation, Gilbert begins to wonder whether his trust in her has been misplaced. It is only when she allows Gilbert to read her diary that the truth is revealed and the shocking details of her past.

2. A 20th Century Classic:

excellent womenExcellent Women by Barbara Pym.

Excellent Women is one of Barbara Pym’s richest and most amusing high comedies. Mildred Lathbury is a clergyman’s daughter and a mild-mannered spinster in 1950s England. She is one of those “excellent women,” the smart, supportive, repressed women who men take for granted. As Mildred gets embroiled in the lives of her new neighbors–anthropologist Helena Napier and her handsome, dashing husband, Rocky, and Julian Malory, the vicar next door–the novel presents a series of snapshots of human life as actually, and pluckily, lived in a vanishing world of manners and repressed desires.

3. A classic by a woman author:

O PioneersO Pioneers! by Willa Cather, since I am doing a Cather project read right now!

O Pioneers! tells the story of the Bergsons, a family of Swedish immigrants in the farm country near the fictional town of Hanover, Nebraska, at the turn of the 20th century. The main character, Alexandra Bergson, inherits the family farmland when her father dies, and she devotes her life to making the farm a viable enterprise at a time when other immigrant families are giving up and leaving the prairie. The novel is also concerned with two romantic relationships, one between Alexandra and family friend Carl Linstrum and another between Alexandra’s brother Emil and the married Marie Shabata.

4. A classic in translation:

the wreathThe Wreath, by Sigrid Undset, which was translated from the original Norwegian.

In Kristin Lavransdatter (1920-1922), Nobel Prize-winning Sigrid Undset interweaves political, social, and religious history with the daily aspects of family life to create a colorful, richly detailed tapestry of Norway during the fourteenth-century. The trilogy, however, is more than a journey into the past. Undset’s own life-her familiarity with Norse sagas and folklore and with a wide range of medieval literature, her experiences as a daughter, wife, and mother, and her deep religious faith-profoundly influenced her writing. Her grasp of the connections between past and present and of human nature itself, combined with the extraordinary quality of her writing, sets her works far above the genre of “historical novels.”

5. A classic by a non-white author:

Jonah's Gourd VineJonah’s Gourd Vine by Zora Neale Hurston.

Jonah’s Gourd Vine, Zora Neale Hurston’s first novel, originally published in 1934, tells the story of John Buddy Pearson, “a living exultation” of a young man who loves too many women for his own good. Lucy, his long-suffering wife, is his true love, but there’s also Mehaley and Big ‘Oman, as well as the scheming Hattie, who conjures hoodoo spells to ensure his attentions. Even after becoming the popular pastor of Zion Hope, where his sermons and prayers for cleansing rouse the congregation’s fervor, John has to confess that though he is a preacher on Sundays, he is a “natchel man” the rest of the week. And so in this sympathetic portrait of a man and his community, Zora Neale Hurston shows that faith, tolerance, and good intentions cannot resolve the tension between the spiritual and the physical. That she makes this age-old dilemma come so alive is a tribute to her understanding of the vagaries of human nature.

6. An adventure classic:

the rescuersThe Rescuers by Margery Sharp.

MISS BIANCA IS A WHITE MOUSE OF GREAT BEAUTY and supreme self-confidence, who, courtesy of her excellent young friend, the ambassador’s son, resides luxuriously in a porcelain pagoda painted with violets, primroses, and lilies of the valley. Miss Bianca would seem to be a pampered creature, and not, you would suppose, the mouse to dispatch on an especially challenging and extraordinarily perilous mission. However, it is precisely Miss Bianca that the Prisoners’ Aid Society picks for the job of rescuing a Norwegian poet imprisoned in the legendarily dreadful Black Castle (we all know, don’t we, that mice are the friends of prisoners, tending to their needs in dungeons and oubliettes everywhere).

Miss Bianca, after all, is a poet too, and in any case she is due to travel any day now by diplomatic pouch to Norway. There Miss Bianca will be able to enlist one Nils, known to be the bravest mouse in the land, in a desperate and daring endeavor that will take them, along with their trusty companion Bernard, across turbulent seas and over the paws and under the maws of cats into one of the darkest places known to man or mouse. It will take everything they’ve got and a good deal more to escape
with their own lives, not to mention the poet.

7. A fantasy, science fiction, or dystopian classic:

kindredKindred by Octavia Butler

The first science fiction written by a black woman, Kindred has become a cornerstone of black American literature. This combination of slave memoir, fantasy, and historical fiction is a novel of rich literary complexity. Having just celebrated her 26th birthday in 1976 California, Dana, an African-American woman, is suddenly and inexplicably wrenched through time into antebellum Maryland. After saving a drowning white boy there, she finds herself staring into the barrel of a shotgun and is transported back to the present just in time to save her life. During numerous such time-defying episodes with the same young man, she realizes the challenge she’s been given: to protect this young slaveholder until he can father her own great-grandmother.

8. A classic detective novel:

murder is easyMurder is Easy by Agatha Christie.

Luke Fitzwilliam could not believe Miss Pinkerton’s wild allegation that a multiple murderer was at work in the quiet English village of Wychwood — or her speculation that the local doctor was next in line. But within hours, Miss Pinkerton had been killed in a hit-and-run car accident. Mere coincidence? Luke was inclined to think so — until he read in The Times of the unexpected demise of Dr Humbleby…

9. A classic which includes the name of a place in the title:

pomfret towersPomfret Towers by Angela Thirkell.

Pomfret Towers, Barsetshire seat of the earls of Pomfret, was constructed, with great pomp and want of concern for creature comforts, in the once-fashionable style of Sir Gilbert Scott’s St Pancras station.

It makes a grand setting for a house party at which gamine Alice Barton and her brother Guy are honoured guests, mixing with the headstrong Rivers family, the tally-ho Wicklows and, most charming of all, Giles Foster, nephew and heir of the present Lord Pomfret.

But whose hand will Mr Foster seek in marriage, and who will win Alice’s tender heart? Angela Thirkell’s classic 1930s comedy is lively, witty and deliciously diverting.

10. A classic which has been banned or censored:

ethan fromeEthan Frome by Edith Wharton (banned for infidelity).

Ethan Frome works his unproductive farm and struggles to maintain a bearable existence with his difficult, suspicious, and hypochondriac wife, Zeena. But when Zeena’s vivacious cousin enters their household as a “hired girl”, Ethan finds himself obsessed with her and with the possibilities for happiness she comes to represent.

In one of American fiction’s finest and most intense narratives, Edith Wharton moves this ill-starred trio toward their tragic destinies. Different in both tone and theme from Wharton’s other works, Ethan Frome has become perhaps her most enduring and most widely read novel.

11. Re-read a classic you read in school:

jane eyreJane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte.

Orphaned into the household of her Aunt Reed at Gateshead, subject to the cruel regime at Lowood charity school, Jane Eyre nonetheless emerges unbroken in spirit and integrity. She takes up the post of governess at Thornfield, falls in love with Mr. Rochester, and discovers the impediment to their lawful marriage in a story that transcends melodrama to portray a woman’s passionate search for a wider and richer life than Victorian society traditionally allowed.

With a heroine full of yearning, the dangerous secrets she encounters, and the choices she finally makes, Charlotte Bronte’s innovative and enduring romantic novel continues to engage and provoke readers.

12. A volume of classic short stories:

Gothic talesGothic Tales by Elizabeth Gaskell.

Elizabeth Gaskell’s chilling Gothic tales blend the real and the supernatural to eerie, compelling effect. ‘Disappearances’, inspired by local legends of mysterious vanishings, mixes gossip and fact; ‘Lois the Witch’, a novella based on an account of the Salem witch hunts, shows how sexual desire and jealousy lead to hysteria; while in ‘The Old Nurse’s Story’ a mysterious child roams the freezing Northumberland moors. Whether darkly surreal, such as ‘The Poor Clare’, where an evil doppelganger is formed by a woman’s bitter curse, or mischievous like ‘Curious, if True’, a playful reworking of fairy tales, all the pieces in this volume form a start contrast to the social realism of Gaskell’s novels, revealing a darker and more unsettling style of writing.

Exploring the novels of Willa Cather

Willa in Winter by Willa Cather

Willa in Winter 2

I was engaged in a discussion with some online reader friends on Goodreads the other day, when one of them mentioned that he enjoyed choosing an author and focusing in on their work and reading several books by the author close together. I tend to break up my reading – if there is an author I like, I am reluctant to read all of his/her books in a great gulp. The problem with that is that I have such a terribly short attention span, that I often lose interest when I try to make them last.

I decided to give his idea a try – but with almost no parameters in terms of order or timing. I’m just going to spend a few months exploring Willa Cather, an author whom I have long admired (I’ve previously read My Antonia, One of Ours, and Death Comes for the Archbishop) and who fits nicely into my current reading focus. I had previously purchased a stack of gorgeous Vintage editions of her work, so I am ready to go with:

Alexander’s Bridge
O Pioneers
The Song of the Lark
My Antonia
A Lost Lady
The Professor’s House
Shadows on the Rock

I’m not sure that I will read all of them, and I’m not sure that I won’t continue reading once I finish those. I’m just going to fly by the seat of my pants here, and enjoy it.

I first stumbled onto Willa Cather through my grandmother. I was born in Nebraska, although we left there when I was around ten years old. My grandparents lived in Nebraska until just a few years before their death, and we would drive back to Nebraska often when I was a child. She mentioned that My Antonia was one of her favorite books, so I picked it up. I’ve read it a few times since that first reading, but I’m interested to see how I feel about it this time around. I will probably hold onto that reread until late in the process, and certainly until after I’ve read O Pioneers and The Song of the Lark.

If I enjoy the process, I already have a mental list of additional authors to explore!

Reading Recap!

recap 2015

A Winter in Arabia by Freya Stark

A Winter in Arabia by Freya StarkA Winter in Arabia by Freya Stark
on 1940
Genres: Adventure, Non-fiction, Travel
Pages: 326 pages
Goodreads
three-stars

One of the most unconventional and courageous explorers of her time, Freya Stark chronicled her extraordinary Travels in the Near East, establishing herself as a twentieth century heroine. A Winter in Arabia recounts her 1937-8 expedition in what is now Yemen, a journey which helped secure her reputation not only as a great travel writer, but also as a first-rate geographer, historian, and archaeologist. There, in the land whose "nakedness is clothed in shreds of departed splendor," she and two companions spent a winter in search of an ancient South Arabian city.

Offering rare glimpses of life behind the veil-the subtleties of business and social conduct, the elaborate beauty rituals of the women, and the bitter animosities between rival tribes, Freya Stark conveys the "perpetual charm of Arabia ... that the traveler finds his own level there simply as a human being."

Ah, the end of the year challenge clean up! I read this one ages ago, but never got around to posting & now with the Back to the Classics challenge coming to end, I have forgotten most of what I wanted to say!

I really wanted to like this book more than I did. I was looking forward to an adventure story written by a plucky Victorian lady explorer swathed in voluminous skirts. I wanted Marie Brennan’s A Natural History of Dragons, but for real.

Unfortunately, it just didn’t capture my fancy as much as I had hoped. Divided into two sections: the Diary and the Journey, it was a bit dry.

The Diary section chronicles Freya Stark’s time spent in a small village called Hureidha, in South Yemen. Stark spent much of the time ill, and did get some interesting opportunities to interact with the village women, which was interesting. I was just hoping for something more.

The village itself looked something like this:

y9avBkP - Imgur

The second section covers her journey from the village to another location where she meets up with some other travellers.

I wouldn’t call this the easiest book to read, but it was very interesting. Stark is British, but approached her travels with an open soul. She was permitted to participate in much of the local native culture, and provides interesting descriptions of some of the rituals. She was also very descriptive, which provided me with really detailed mental pictures of the way the light shifted in the local wadi (which would have looked something like this):

KGIJxO1 - Imgur

I’m not sorry I read it, but I doubt that I’ll read Stark again, although I have tremendous respect for her adventurous spirit!

three-stars

Classics Spin #11

Time for a new classics spin! In preparation for my Read Women 2016 project next year, all books were written by women. I can’t wait to see what the spin delivers!

1. The Voyage Out by Virginia Woolf. 2. And Both Were Young by Madeleine L’Engle. 3. The Glimpses of the Moon by Edith Wharton. 4. Cheerful Weather for the Wedding by Julia Strachey. 5. Murder is Easy by Agatha Christie. 6. Excellent Women by Barbara Pym. 7. Cold Comfort Farm by Stella Gibbons. 8. Kindred by Octavia Butler. 9. Crocodile on the Sandbank by Elizabeth Peters. 10. I Married Adventure by Osa Johnson. 11. The Story of the Treasure Seekers by E. Nesbit. 12. Cranford by Elizabeth Gaskell. 13. The Rescuers by Margery Sharp. 14. The Pursuit of Love by Nancy Mitford. 15. High Rising by Angela Thirkell. 16. The Game of Kings by Dorothy Dunnett. 17. Death in Kashmir by M.M. Kaye. 18. The Crystal Cave by Mary Stewart. 19. Elizabeth and her German Garden by Elizabeth van Arnim. 20. The New Moon With the Old by Dodie Smith.

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