Month: June 2014

The Warden by Anthony Trollope

The Warden by Anthony TrollopeThe Warden by Anthony Trollope
Series: Chronicles of Barchester #1
Published by Penguin Classics on 1855
Genres: Classics - Victorian
Pages: 201
Source: Purchased: print book
Goodreads
four-stars

"The tranquil atmosphere of the cathedral town of Barchester is shattered when a scandal breaks concerning the financial affairs of a Church-run almshouse for elderly men. In the ensuing furore, Septimus Harding, the almshouse's well-meaning warden, finds himself pitted against his daughter's suitor Dr. John Bold, a zealous local reformer. Matters are not improved when Harding's abrasive son-in law, Archdeacon Grantly, leaps into the fray to defend him against a campaign Bold begins in the national press. An affectionate and wittily satirical view of the workings of the Church of England, "The Warden" is also a subtle exploration of the rights and wrongs of moral crusades and, in its account of Harding's intensely felt personal drama, a moving depiction of the private impact of public affairs."

This slender book is the first volume in Trollope’s Chronicles of Barsetshire. It is one of Trollope’s shorter works (if not the shortest), and provides the reader with a brief but delightful introduction into the characters and setting of Trollope’s ecclesiastical series.

I have not read a lot of Trollope. The only other of his novels that I have read is the stand-alone “The Way We Live Now,” which I read a number of years ago – long enough ago that if I were to try to review it, I would need to reread it. I remember distinctly enjoying it. Trollope is a student of human nature, and explores human behavior in a way that is really compelling. The Warden is a slice of life book centered around Mr. Harding, the warden of a hospital for poor men (the bedesmen), who becomes the subject of a dispute between his son-in-law, Dr. Grantly, and a reformer, John Bold. Mr. Bold attempts to make the case that Mr. Harding’s salary – which is rather generous – should, by rights, go to the bedesmen for whom he provides spiritual succor and physical care.

Poor Mr. Harding, who is a genuinely honorable man, ends up being tugged like a bone between two dogs when Mr. Bold files a lawsuit to oust Mr. Harding and give the bedesmen the money from a trust that is in place to care for them. The men have varying reactions to this plan. Some of them think it is a grand idea. One of them thinks that they are likely to not really benefit in the end, and is loyal to Mr. Harding:

“Law!” said Bunce, with all the scorn he knew how to command—”law! Did ye ever know a poor man yet was the better for law, or for a lawyer?

I’ll let you guess who was right.

As if this dispute isn’t ugly enough, Mr. Harding’s younger daughter, Eleanor, is also in love with John Bold, and is therefore, herself, engaged an emotional tug-of-war between her filial love and respect for her father and her romantic love for Mr. Bold.

“Mr Bold,” said she, “you may be sure of one thing; I shall always judge my father to be right, and those who oppose him I shall judge to be wrong. If those who do not know him oppose him, I shall have charity enough to believe that they are wrong, through error of judgment; but should I see him attacked by those who ought to know him, and to love him, and revere him, of such I shall be constrained to form a different opinion.” And then curtseying low she sailed on, leaving her lover in anything but a happy state of mind.

And, to top off this rather convoluted family pentagon, Mr. Harding’s other daughter, Susan, is married to Dr. Grantly. Lots of Victorian family drama ensues, ending in the resignation of Mr. Harding from his position, and the marriage of John Bold and Eleanor Harding.

One of my favorite things about this book is the believability of it. This is how families act, even modern families, when disputes are allowed to fester, and people take sides, and grudges are held. There is always a peacemaker. In this case, the peacemaker ends up being Mr. Harding, who is a simply lovely character. He is genuinely good, and it horrifies him when he is confronted with the position that he has been being paid at the expense of his charges. He displays no sense of entitlement – he is hurt, not angry, not defensive. Once he decides on his course of action, he pursues it single-mindedly and selflessly.

“I cannot boast of my conscience, when it required the violence of a public newspaper to awaken it; but, now that it is awake, I must obey it.”

I want to say a quick few words about Trollope’s women. All three of them – Susan (wife of Dr. Grantly/daughter of Mr. Harding), Mary (sister of John Bold) and Eleanor (daughter of Mr. Harding/sister of Susan/friend of Mary) were fully realized and complex characters. Eleanor was a bit too good to be true, but didn’t I just love her nonetheless.

In the end, of course, the bedesmen end up much worse off than they were before the reformer decided to try to help them. They have the same (small) apportionment of money, and no Mr. Harding. The position of Warden goes unfilled because the bishop cannot be prevailed upon to offer it to anyone other than Dr. Harding, who continues to refuse to return to the position through the end of The Warden.

This was a simply wonderful read. It is followed by Barchester Towers, which is the sequel to The Warden and takes up about two years after the resignation of Mr. Harding and the marriage of John and Eleanor.

four-stars

June 28, 1914

assassination

100 years ago today:

On Sunday, 28 June 1914, at approximately 10:45 am, Franz Ferdinand and his wife were killed in Sarajevo, the capital of the Austro-Hungarian province of Bosnia and Herzegovina, by Gavrilo Princip, 19 at the time, a member of Young Bosnia and one of a group of assassins organized by the Black Hand. The event led to a chain of events that eventually triggered World War I.

Reading the Great War: July & August 2014

The Great War: Project Introduction by Barbara Tuchman, Ford Maddox Ford, Jacqueline Winspear, Margaret MacMillan, Philip Rock, Vera Brittain

great war read

Project page located here

Non-fiction & Memoir:

guns of august The Guns of August by Barbara Tuchman. Historian and Pulitzer Prize-winning author Barbara Tuchman has brought to life again the people and events that led up to World War I. With attention to fascinating detail, and an intense knowledge of her subject and its characters, Ms. Tuchman reveals, for the first time, just how the war started, why, and why it could have been stopped but wasn’t. A classic historical survey of a time and a people we all need to know more about, THE GUNS OF AUGUST will not be forgotten.

testament of youth Testament of Youth by Vera Brittain. Much of what we know and feel about the First World War we owe to Vera Brittain’s elegiac yet unsparing book, which set a standard for memoirists from Martha Gellhorn to Lillian Hellman. Abandoning her studies at Oxford in 1915 to enlist as a nurse in the armed services, Brittain served in London, in Malta, and on the Western Front. By war’s end she had lost virtually everyone she loved. Testament of Youth is both a record of what she lived through and an elegy for a vanished generation. Hailed by the Times Literary Supplement as a book that helped “both form and define the mood of its time,” it speaks to any generation that has been irrevocably changed by war.

Paris 1919 Paris 1919 by Margaret MacMillan. For six months in 1919, after the end of “the war to end all wars,” the Big Three—President Woodrow Wilson, British prime minister David Lloyd George, and French premier Georges Clemenceau—met in Paris to shape a lasting peace. In this landmark work of narrative history, Margaret MacMillan gives a dramatic and intimate view of those fateful days, which saw new political entities—Iraq, Yugoslavia, and Palestine, among them—born out of the ruins of bankrupt empires, and the borders of the modern world redrawn.

Fiction:

passing bells The Passing Bells by Philip Rock. The guns of August are rumbling throughout Europe in the summer of 1914, but war has not yet touched Abingdon Pryory. Here, at the grand home of the Greville family, the parties, dances, and romances play on. Alexandra Greville embarks on her debutante season while brother Charles remains hopelessly in love with the beautiful, untitled Lydia Foxe, knowing that his father, the Earl of Stanmore, will never approve of the match. Downstairs the new servant, Ivy, struggles to adjust to the routines of the well-oiled household staff, as the arrival of American cousin Martin Rilke, a Chicago newspaperman, causes a stir. But, ultimately, the Great War will not be denied, as what begins for the high-bred Grevilles as a glorious adventure soon takes its toll—shattering the household’s tranquillity, crumbling class barriers, and bringing its myriad horrors home.

maisie dobbs Maisie Dobbs by Jacqueline Winspear. Maisie Dobbs isn’t just any young housemaid. Through her own natural intelligence—and the patronage of her benevolent employers—she works her way into college at Cambridge. When World War I breaks out, Maisie goes to the front as a nurse. It is there that she learns that coincidences are meaningful and the truth elusive. After the War, Maisie sets up on her own as a private investigator. But her very first assignment, seemingly an ordinary infidelity case, soon reveals a much deeper, darker web of secrets, which will force Maisie to revisit the horrors of the Great War and the love she left behind.

Parade's End Parade’s End by Ford Maddox Ford. First published as four separate novels (Some Do Not . . ., No More Parades, A Man Could Stand Up—, and The Last Post) between 1924 and 1928, Parade’s End explores the world of the English ruling class as it descends into the chaos of war. Christopher Tietjens is an officer from a wealthy family who finds himself torn between his unfaithful socialite wife, Sylvia, and his suffragette mistress, Valentine. A profound portrait of one man’s internal struggles during a time of brutal world conflict, Parade’s End bears out Graham Greene’s prediction that “There is no novelist of this century more likely to live than Ford Madox Ford.”

Audio History:

great course Great Course: World War I. World War I: The “Great War” tells the riveting, tragic, and cautionary tale of this watershed historical event and its aftermath in 36 half-hour lectures delivered by Professor Vejas Gabriel Liulevicius of the University of Tennessee. Professor Liulevicius has a gift for cutting through the tangle of historical data to uncover the patterns that make sense of complex events. And few events are as complex as World War I, which pitted the Central Powers of Germany, Austria-Hungary, and Ottoman Turkey, later joined by Bulgaria, against the Allies, principally France, Great Britain, Russia, Italy, Japan, and, after 1917, the United States.

Most narratives of the war focus on the Western Front in France and Flanders, with its mazelike trenches, gas attacks, constant shelling, assaults “over the top” into withering machine gun fire, and duels of dog-fighting aviators in the sky. Professor Liulevicius devotes great attention to this theater, which has become emblematic of World War I in the popular imagination. (Approximately 18 hours)

Arabella by Georgette Heyer

Arabella by Georgette HeyerArabella by Georgette Heyer
Published by Sourcebooks on 1949
Genres: Romance
Pages: 312
Source: Purchased: ebook
Goodreads
four-stars

Georgette Heyer had a handful of unforgettable heroines, of which Arabella is one of the most engaging. Daughter of a modest country clergyman, Arabella Tallant is on her way to London when her carriage breaks down outside the hunting lodge of the wealthy Mr. Robert Beaumaris. Her pride stung when she overhears a remark of her host's, Arabella pretends to be an heiress, a pretense that deeply amuses the jaded Beau. To counter her white lie, Beaumaris launches her into high society and thereby subjects her to all kinds of fortune hunters and other embarrassments.

When compassionate Arabella rescues such unfortunate creatures as a mistreated chimney sweep and a mixed-breed mongrel, she foists them upon Beaumaris, who finds he rather enjoys the role of rescuer and is soon given the opportunity to prove his worth in the person of Arabella's impetuous young brother...

Arabella was written in 1949, immediately after The Foundling, and right before The Grand Sophy. It is set in the spring of 1817 (per the Georgette Heyer chronology, which you can find here. The chronology was compiled by a number of individuals who used textual clues to determine the precise time period in which the book was set).

I thoroughly enjoyed Arabella, although I think that it does take a backseat to Sprig Muslin by just a little bit. I was frequently reminded in Arabella, more than any other Heyer that I’ve read, of the novels (and life) of Jane Austen. Jane was the daughter of a vicar and lived in genteel want for much of her life. Arabella, too, is the daughter of a vicar. There are too many siblings and not enough money, and it is made clear to Arabella that, as the eldest and prettiest, she must marry well in order to secure comfortable livings for her siblings, which, of course, is reminiscent of Jane Bennett, from Pride and Prejudice.

Arabella, though, resembles Lizzie Bennett much more than she resembles the quiescent Jane. She is a bit reckless, with a hot-temper, but has a deep well of integrity. She gets herself into trouble with that recklessness by claiming to have a fortune when she has no such thing, because she is angry at the hero, Robert Beaumaris, when she overhears him accusing her of being a fortune hunter. Once she has made the claim, she finds herself unable to extricate herself from her dilemma, and it becomes known throughout London that she is an heiress. This makes her wildly popular among the men, fortune-hunter and wealthy alike.

When her brother, Bertram, shows up and manages to get himself indebted to Beaumaris to the tune of hundreds of pounds by some inexperienced gambling, things go from bad to worse, and she finds herself turning down eligible proposals because she believes that they have been made under false pretenses, and giving all of her money to her brother to try to bail him out of his scrape.

Heyer’s solution to this dilemma is also remiscent of Pride and Prejudice – Arabella’s entire family is bailed out by Beaumaris, as the Bennett family, and most particularly Lydia, is bailed out by Darcy.

I am really ambivalent about Beaumaris as a hero, however. On the one hand, obviously, he must be a fine physical specimen, since the discussions of the fit of his coat and his lack of a need for buckram wadding to broaden his shoulders are ubiquitous. He is wealthy and well-educated. On the other hand, he is just too old for Arabella. The actual age difference between them is never articulated, but he must be in his late thirties, based on the way he is presented, and Arabella is in her first season. I really struggle with getting behind a romance with this enormous age difference – even if it was common during that time period.

The other issue I have with Beaumaris, though, is bigger even than the age difference. I’m just not that convinced that he’s a very nice guy. He is shallow and privileged and bored. I am clear on the fact that Arabella brings out the best in him. Arabella has a surprising sensitivity to social injustice, and this the only Heyer that I’ve read so far where Heyer even acknowledges the gulf between rich and poor in British society during this time period. Arabella repeatedly – three times total – tries to rescue some unfortunate who has crossed her path.

The first unfortunate, Jemmy, is also the most appealing. He is a climbing boy, apprenticed to a chimney sweep (although enslaved is a better verb, honestly), responsible for the really terrible job of cleaning chimneys, by climbing up them, in order to prevent chimney fires. This was horrifying and dangerous work, that was done by boys as young as four. When Jemmy mistakenly climbs down her chimney and into her room, Arabella takes custody of him, routs the sweep with threats of prosecution for abuse, and then hands Jemmy off to Beaumaris to be cared for, all in one fell swoop. This is a truly remarkable moment in the book, and shows Arabella as compassionate and headstrong. She is maybe 19, and is able to identify – and do something about – an injustice that Beaumaris has ignored for his entire life. And I didn’t get the impression that he took custody of Jemmy because he recognized a human obligation to a hungry, skinny, abused and orphaned child. He did it because he is diverted by how adorable he finds Arabella. It’s patronizing.

There are two other incidents of the same sort. Arabella rescues a mangy dog that is being beaten a bunch of thuggish young men, and asks for permission to help a prostitute named Leaky Peg who has been helping Bertram out when he runs out of money and is tossed out of his hotel. Beaumaris is willing to help with the dog, but draws the line at Leaky Peg.

He also manipulates Arabella rather badly. He knows from the beginning that Arabella doesn’t really have a fortune, but he plays her like a fish on a line – because her childlike innocence amuses him – for far too long. Arabella feels terrible about deceiving Beaumaris. Beaumaris doesn’t ever really seem to feel terrible about deceiving Arabella, even though she spends a number of really miserable, fraught days. And then, there is the matter of Bertram, who is also left dangling for far too long. The risk that Bertram might have committed suicide as a result of the dire financial situation he was in is certainly not insignificant. Beaumaris had no qualms about playing with emotional fire so long as he thought it might get him what he wants in the end. I can only hope that marriage to Arabella will improve him – make him less selfish, less prone to playing with other people’s lives and emotions for his own amusement, and less blind to his own privilege.

To continue with the Pride and Prejudice analogy, I hope that Beaumaris is a Mr. Darcy, but I am afraid he might be a Mr. Wickham.

Arabella has some of the most wonderful characteristics of Heyer’s writing – sparkling dialogue, humor, and an appealing heroine. If I had been more confident in Beaumaris, it might have been a five star read. As it is, Arabella gets 5 stars, the writing gets 4 stars, and Beaumaris gets 3 stars. That puts me at an overall rating of 4 stars.

four-stars

The Mirk and Midnight Hour by Jane Nickerson

The Mirk and Midnight Hour by Jane NickersonThe Mirk and Midnight Hour by Jane Nickerson
Published by Knopf on March 11, 2014
Genres: YA
Pages: 384
Source: Purchased: ebook
Goodreads
two-half-stars

Seventeen-year-old Violet Dancey has been left at home in Mississippi with a laudanum-addicted stepmother and love-crazed stepsister while her father fights in the war—a war that has already claimed her twin brother.

When she comes across a severely injured Union soldier lying in an abandoned lodge deep in the woods, things begin to change. Thomas is the enemy—one of the men who might have killed her own brother—and yet she's drawn to him. But Violet isn't Thomas's only visitor; someone has been tending to his wounds—keeping him alive—and it becomes chillingly clear that this care hasn't been out of compassion.

Against the dangers of war and ominous powers of voodoo, Violet must fight to protect her home and the people she loves.

From the author of Strands of Bronze and Gold comes a haunting love story and suspenseful thriller based on the ancient fairy tale of “Tam Lin.”

This is a retelling of Tam Lin, a Scottish ballad with which I was unfamiliar until I read this book. I am very familiar with the Grimm tales, but this one was new to me, and that might have prevented me from enjoying the book as much as I had hoped I would.

Information about Tam Lin (from Wikipedia):

Most variants begin with the warning that Tam Lin collects either a possession or the virginity of any maiden who passes through the forest of Carterhaugh. When a young girl, usually called Janet or Margaret, goes to Carterhaugh and plucks a double rose, Tam appears and asks why she has come without his leave and taken what is his. She states that she owns Carterhaugh, because her father has given it to her.

In most variants, Janet then goes home and discovers that she is pregnant; some variants pick up the story at this point. When taxed about her condition, she declares that her baby’s father is an elf whom she will not forsake. In some variants, she is informed of a herb that will induce abortion; in all the variants, when she returns to Carterhaugh and picks a plant, either the same roses as on her earlier visit or the herb, Tam reappears and challenges her action.

She asks him whether he was ever human, either after that reappearance, or in some variants, immediately after their first meeting resulted in her pregnancy. He reveals that he was a mortal man, who, after falling from his horse, was rescued and captured by the Queen of Fairies. Every seven years, the fairies give one of their people as a teind (tithe) to Hell and Tam fears he will become the tithe that night, which is Hallowe’en. He is to ride as part of a company of knights, and Janet will recognise him by the white horse upon which he rides and by other signs. He warns her that the fairies will attempt to make her drop him by turning him into all manner of beasts (seeProteus), but that he will do her no harm. When he is finally turned into a burning coal, she is to throw him into a well, whereupon he will reappear as a naked man and she must hide him. Janet does as she is asked and wins her knight. The Queen of Fairies is angry but acknowledges defeat.

I really wanted to love this book. It is well-written enough, and set in Civil War, Mississippi. It felt, though, like the author really couldn’t make up her mind between writing a straight YA historical fiction romance (like The Caged Graves, which I adored) and an eerie retelling of a fairy tale using the Civil War as a setting and device to tell the tale. This was a rather uneasy blend of both. Of the two, I much preferred the straight historical fiction aspects of the book. I didn’t feel that the VanZandts and the part of the book that was paranormal worked particularly well, and would have been happier without those parts of the story, actually.

mississippi

I haven’t read anything else by this author, although I do have Strands of Bronze and Gold in my kindle library. I liked her writing style, I enjoyed the characters and the dreamy, slightly otherworldly Mississippi setting, so I’m definitely going to give her another try. This book just didn’t quite work for me. I’m not sure if this is because I didn’t really get the Tam-Lin references, or if it was because she didn’t execute it very well.

The Mirk and Midnight Hour qualifies as Mississippi for my USA by the Book challenge.

two-half-stars

Doctor Zhivago by Boris Pasternak (Book 1)

Doctor Zhivago by Boris Pasternak (Book 1)Doctor Zhivago (Book 1) by Boris Pasternak
Published by pantheon on 1957
Genres: Classics - Twentieth Century
Pages: 513
Source: Purchased: ebook
Goodreads
three-half-stars

Synopsis from Goodreads:

"Boris Pasternak’s widely acclaimed novel comes gloriously to life in a magnificent new translation by Richard Pevear and Larissa Volokhonsky, the award-winning translators of War and Peace and Anna Karenina, and to whom, The New York Review of Books declared, “the English-speaking world is indebted.”

First published in Italy in 1957 amid international controversy—the novel was banned in the Soviet Union until 1988, and Pasternak declined the Nobel Prize a year later under intense pressure from Soviet authorities—Doctor Zhivago is the story of the life and loves of a poet-physician during the turmoil of the Russian Revolution. Taking his family from Moscow to what he hopes will be shelter in the Ural Mountains, Zhivago finds himself instead embroiled in the battle between the Whites and the Reds. Set against this backdrop of cruelty and strife is Zhivago’s love for the tender and beautiful Lara: pursued, found, and lost again, Lara is the very embodiment of the pain and chaos of those cataclysmic times.

Stunningly rendered in the spirit of Pasternak’s original—resurrecting his style, rhythms, voicings, and tone—and including an introduction, textual annotations, and a translators’ note, this edition of Doctor Zhivago is destined to become the definitive English translation of our time."

Doctor Zhivago is a complex novel that begins in 1905, when the title character, Yuri, is ten years old. The first scene involves with the funeral of his mother. This event means that he will be raised as an orphan, as his father is, at first, absent, and later, has committed suicide by throwing himself in front of a train.

Thus, in disorder and amidst perpetual riddles, Yura spent his childhood, often in the hands of strangers, who changed all the time. He became used to these changes, and in this situation of eternal incoherence his father’s absence did not surprise him.

The first part of Doctor Zhivago deals primarily with the events leading up to the October Revolution, and the flight of Yuri’s family from Moscow. The events related to Yuri are intertwined with the second narrative focus, which concerns Larissa (Lara). Both Yuri and Lara are fatherless, living in a time of great instability. They are the two minor players on the great stage of Russia, and the Russian revolution, and Pasternak uses them to demonstrate the effects of the revolution on relatively ordinary young people.

Doctor Zhivago is a quintessentially Russian novel – and is a novel in which Russia herself is a character. Pasternak himself is a poet, and he wields words with precision and beauty. Much of the novel focuses the attention of the reader on minute details to show the beauty that he is trying to convey, like this description of a traditional Russian Christmas:

The frosted-over windows of houses, lit from inside, resembled precious caskets of laminated smoky topaz. Behind them glowed Moscow’s Christmas life, candles burned on trees, guests crowded, and clowning mummers played at hide-and-seek and pass-the-ring. It suddenly occurred to Yura that Blok was the manifestation of Christmas in all domains of Russian life, in the daily life of the northern city and in the new literature, under the starry sky of the contemporary street and around the lighted Christmas tree in a drawing room of the present century. It occurred to him that no article about Blok was needed, but one needed simply to portray a Russian adoration of the Magi, like the Dutch masters, with frost, wolves, and a dark fir forest.

or to depict a character with delicacy and care, like this description of Tonya, Yuri’s wife:

Yura stood absentmindedly in the middle of the ballroom and looked at Tonya, who was dancing with someone he did not know. Gliding past Yura, Tonya tossed aside the small train of her too-long satin dress with a movement of her foot and, splashing it like a fish, disappeared into the crowd of dancers. She was very excited. During the break, when they sat in the dining room, Tonya refused tea and quenched her thirst with mandarines, which she peeled in great number from their fragrant, easily separated skins. She kept taking from behind her sash or from her little sleeve a cambric handkerchief, tiny as a fruit tree blossom, and wiping the trickles of sweat at the edges of her lips and between her sticky fingers. Laughing and not interrupting the animated conversation, she mechanically tucked it back behind her sash or the frills of her bodice.

The lives of Yuri and Lara are intertwined, like the twin strands of DNA, Sometimes separated, sometimes twisted together. They see one another as if at a distance several times when they are young, Yuri constantly aware of her. She is involved, Lolita-like, in a frankly abusive relationship with a much older man, the lawyer Komarovsky, and he exploits her until, unable to cope with the pressure and humiliation of her sexual subjugation, she tries to shoot Komarovsky.

Yuri becomes a doctor, and marries Tonya. Lara becomes a nurse, and marries Pasha Antipov. The revolution sweeps them up and tosses them like so much flotsam:

Just think what a time it is now! And you and I are living in these days! Only once in eternity do such unprecedented things happen. Think: the roof over the whole of Russia has been torn off, and we and all the people find ourselves under the open sky. And there’s nobody to spy on us. Freedom! Real, not just in words and demands, but fallen from the sky, beyond all expectation. Freedom by inadvertence, by misunderstanding. “And how perplexedly enormous everyone is! Have you noticed? As if each of them is crushed by himself, by the revelation of his own heroic might.

Doctor Zhivago relies extensively on coincidence – characters run into one another constantly, which, because given the size of Russia, seems unlikely. But Pasternak is moving his characters around like chess pieces because he has something he wants to say and he needs them in places together at various times to be able to say it.

Book I ends with all four of the primary characters leaving Moscow, with the Zhivago’s in a very long train ride to Yuriatin, the location of Tonya’s old family estate. Lara is already in Yuriatin, and Pasha has left her to become a participant in the Revolution.

A note on the translation: I read the Pevear & Volokhonsky translation. I am assured by friends who are more knowledgeable about translations that this is not the best translation to read, that the Hayward translation is preferable. I did notice that the experience of reading Doctor Zhivago was curiously distant, almost arms-length, and I wonder if that is because of the translation.

Further discussion of Book II will go up tomorrow.

three-half-stars

Sprig Muslin by Georgette Heyer

Sprig Muslin by Georgette HeyerSprig Muslin by Georgette Heyer
Published by Sourcebooks on 1956
Genres: Romance
Pages: 320
Source: Purchased: ebook
Goodreads
four-half-stars

Sir Gareth Ludlow is just about ready to settle for marriage with Lady Hester, a plain woman who falls below his standards (according to his sister). Despite her protests, however, Gareth sets out to propose marriage.

Along the way, he encounters young Amanda wandering unattended. Honor-bound to restore her to her family, the gallant Sir Ludlow finds he has more than he bargained for with his young charge and her runaway imagination.

This installment in The Heyer Read was positively delightful. There were two potential heroines here: Amanda, who was an engaging, adorable child, and Hester, the level-headed spinster, long since on the shelf. The Hero, Gareth, was one of Heyer’s most likeable. He is trustworthy, kind to children and animals, and frequently exasperated by the adorable Amanda. He suffered the loss of his fiancee, the incomparably beautiful and spirited Clarissa, many decades ago and it is assumed that he still carries a torch for the woman.

We begin, as we often begin, with a man for whom it is time to marry. And the woman he has chosen to marry does not please his family.

When I think of all the pretty and lovely girls who have done their best to attach him, and he tells me that he has offered for an insipid female who has neither fortune nor any extraordinary degree of beauty, besides being stupidly shy and dowdy, I – oh, I could go into strong hysterics!

Hester’s family, on the other hand, cannot imagine how she has managed capture the interest of Gareth.

After eyeing her for a moment or two, he said: ‘If you let this chance of achieving a respectable alliance slip, you are a bigger fool than I take you for, Hester!’ Her eyes came round to his face, a smile quivered for an instant on her lips. ‘No, how could that be, Papa?

The side-story with Amanda really highlights Gareth’s fine qualities. There is never a hint of impropriety, or skeeviness, in his relationship with her. He is protective and ensures that she is safe when she repeatedly places herself in unsafe situations. In a modern book, this might be irritating or high-handed. In the regency world, however, where the virtue of a girl like Amanda is paramount to a happy future, it is charming. He rescues her from her own folly time and again, without ever once coming off as the sort of gross older man who is doing it for nefarious reasons. In fact, Gareth is sort of the quintessential and most appealing uncle-type. He is able to forgive youthful folly, even when youthful folly shoots him (literally, not figuratively) in the shoulder.

This does not mean, however, that Gareth is without a certain amount of swoony appeal. The romance between Gareth and Hester is wonderful. He begins by offering what is essentially a marriage of attrition. He rather likes her, finds her worthy of attention, and she’s really the only one left other than girls like Amanda, and he’s not interested at all in marrying a child. His decision to marry her isn’t even a decision of convenience, it is more a decision of bored acquiescence. At the beginning.

But, ah, how their relationship develops over the course of the book. Hester shows herself to be much more adventuresome than even she realized she was (although Ms. Heyer realized it from the very beginning). And Gareth falls for her. For real, this time. The ending of the book is simply wonderful:

When I asked you at Brancaster I held you in affection and esteem, but I believed I could never be in love again. I was wrong. Will you marry me, my dear and last love?’ She took his face between her hands, and looked into his eyes. A sigh, as though she were rid of a burden, escaped her. ‘Yes, Gareth,’ she said. ‘Oh, yes, indeed I will!

It is beautifully convincing.

four-half-stars

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