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Friday, May 31, 2019

Classics Club Spin: The House of Mirth

I can only imagine how the publication of The House of Mirth must have struck the literary world of New York, Boston, and Philadelphia in 1905, a bit like a tsunami, perhaps. The novel was a huge bestseller, but who read it, and how did the upper-tier of society in the Northeast react to it?

I see the novel as totally exposing the super-wealthy elite of Newport and New York and Boston and Philadelphia, leaving them so open to the criticism that they so richly deserved. I would be very interested in reading every review of Wharton's novel in every major newspaper in the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic. The intellectual class, the upper-middle-class, populating the professions including the law, journalism, and academia, must have had a field day with the novel, and the way in which Wharton exposed the shallowness and pettiness of the elite who had "old money" supporting them, with the "new-moneyed" class trying to nudge their way into their midst.

I can't help but see the novel in its historical context. This is partly due to my family history, which I'm not sure this entry has space for.
Laying that aside, which I scarcely can, I empathize with Lily Bart who, after the untimely death of her mother, never had a single person in her family to act as a sheltering mentor. Oh, yes, Mrs. Peniston reluctantly gave Lily a room in her home, but no woman relative took her under her wing when she was a teen or in her early twenties to give guidance, to love her, to nurture her, to question her actions as she emerged as a debutante to navigate the river rapids of the society she was dealing with, which is what all the other young woman had. This lack of a strong family behind her was really the key to her undoing, in my view.

The other aspect that paralyzed Lily's ability to secure her future was her inability to commit to anyone. The minute that affairs seemed to drift toward closure and securing her position as a wife, she flew. Over and over again. For some reason, she felt safest on her own, independent and admired by everyone. This, for a time, kept her on the pedestal she believed she could manage.

The House of Mirth is an absolutely brilliant work of art, in my opinion. It deserves a much, much, much higher place in American literature than it has been given. There are a virtually endless aspects of discussion that it provides to the reader.

Thursday, May 30, 2019

Louisa May Alcott Strikes Home Again, and The House of Mirth Coming

Tomorrow, May 31st, I'll be posting my review of The House of Mirth by Edith Wharton for the May Classics Club Spin.
But I deviated from my plan on Memorial Day weekend. Somehow or other I allowed myself to get swept up in the very recently published  post-apocalyptic novel The Last by Hanna Jameson. Yes, I downloaded it onto my Nook and allowed it to consume me. It had some very interesting moments, but it was really just a smidgin above so-so, in my estimation. Of course I compare all of these post-apocalyptic novels to the stunner On the Beach by Nevil Shute. None can even come close to this masterpiece. Sounds like it won't be long before I reread it for the 4th time. (!)


This morning I picked up Eight Cousins by Louisa May Alcott and was delighted by it all over again. I think I read it when I was thirteen or fourteen. As I was reading the unabridged edition,  I can see why Puffin Classics have published an abridgement for younger readers (9-11).  That's because there is some really adult-world stuff going on in that book. At 13-14, I think that part of it really interested me. And it really intrigued me today.
Poor orphaned Rose, whose dear Papa died more than a year ago, has never really recovered from his loss. After spending a miserable year  at a boarding school, she is shipped off to live with her aunts and great-aunts on "Aunt Hill" in a coastal New England town. The six of them never stop arguing over how she is to be brought up, how to be treated, how to deal with her constant  illness, and so forth. She is very isolated living with these old ladies, becomes more sickly, and bored out of her mind.
Thank heavens, her Uncle Alec, the brother her Papa appointed as her one true guardian, finally arrives back from Calcutta to overtake his responsibility. And what a breath of fresh air! He encourages her to play with her 7 boy cousins, roughing and tumbling, he tosses all her get-well tonics out the window into the flower bed, replaces the "sickly person's diet" with good, wholesome food, gets her up and running around outdoors, and, of course, showers her with attention and loves her to pieces. And the aunts can't complain for Uncle Alec is a medical doctor. In a family conference, "adults only," he convinces them to stand aside, because he is the appointed guardian of Rose, and if after one year, she is not better off, then they are welcome to intervene. And so it is!   Loving it.
And Alcott has such a robust sense of humor in this one. Sheer delight!
I must read Rose in Bloom, the follow-up to this one, maybe later this summer. Have never read it.

By the way, the cover of Eight Cousins is one from a re-issuing of all of Alcott's novels in paperback by Little Brown in 1997. Little Brown was Louisa May Alcott's publisher originally.
There are really no good unabridged editions of some of her novels right now.
I happened to be working in a children's bookstore just outside of Boston in 1997 and these nice trade paperpacks, which came out just before Christmas, were immensely popular. I'd like to get (almost) a whole set. I say almost because I have a much-treasured edition of Little Women, published in 1966, given to me from my favorite "reading" aunt. I got this one through Abebooks.com from a rare book seller. Got a good price for a "fine" copy.

Tuesday, May 21, 2019

Books in the Mail! And Memorial Day Readathon

I will be in the MOOD to read for hours and hours starting Thursday.
I can feel the compulsion coming over me, which will likely last all weekend.
We will also dine at The Inn on Gore Mountain. Susan Minucci is hands-down the best chef in Warren and Essex Counties. And I will do a few walk-abouts, but due to our super-rainy spring, we're having the worst black fly season in years and years, so I must choose very windy places to gaze at nature.  I will also plant my horde of violas and pansies, finally, into pots.
House-cleaning is out of the question until next week, or the week after, maybe.

My priority is to  finish The House of Mirth for the Classics Club Spin by May 29th. And how I will enjoy being able to concentrate on it! I can already see that I am waiting to read it again. There's so much in it.

Two new, new books arrived in the mail today. You may have heard news about them or seen the excellent reviews.

The first has received the most praise thus far.
 

Follow this link for all the praise from reviewers:
https://www.penguinrandomhouse.com/books/537667/furious-hours-by-casey-cep/9781101947869/
Be sure to click the "Read More" prompt to get a taste of what reviewers all over the US are saying.

I'm so happy to have this book in my house this weekend.
Who would have known that Harper Lee started this book project? It's so interesting, because, in part Harper Lee had been so burned by Truman Capote's eager and whole-hearted acceptance of all of her research and help with the organization and writing of  In Cold Blood, and then he never once, not ever, acknowledged her contribution. No acknowledgement, no payment, nothing. What a tragedy, followed by the complete breakdown of a relationship that dated back to childhood.

So now today--what we, the public, didn't know until the publication of this book is that Harper Lee decided in the early 1970s to try to write her own "nonfiction novel" of a true crime case, this one in Alabama. I only wish that she had had a few older mentors and contemporaries to support her through the process.  A community of writing colleagues. As far as I know, she didn't have them--not close ones anyway, as far as I know. Perhaps this book will enlighten this part of her life.

My other hardcover book in the mail today:
The Guest Book, which is receiving rave reviews all over. I've provided a link to Maureen Corrigan of NPR's brief thoughts, but many more are all around. It is the type of book I'm yearning for.

https://www.npr.org/2019/05/03/719964856/from-family-drama-to-global-apocalypse-these-two-novels-keep-you-riveted
 And a happy long weekend to all of you!

Sunday, May 19, 2019

A Catch-Up, in a Wickedly Busy Month

I lament that I haven't posted in ten days, and I'm sorry I've had zero time to visit everyone's blogs, which I enjoy doing so much.

I'm in a time snarl right now, and all I can say is that it will be ending eventually, and things will be much better by the very end of May and certainly by June.

And do I ever loathe preparing for public speaking! I loved teaching students, but in this case the audience will be people my age primarily. Peers. All my life I've found speaking to an audience of peers to be much more difficult.  I was asked to do this, and I complied, but what was I thinking?
On the other hand, I enjoyed the research for the project tremendously. I learned a great deal more about early New England history, which is my specialty, so why the angst? Just get over it, I tell myself.
The event will be this Wednesday evening at the Chestertown Historical Society. (If I can survive until then.) Ken will be on hand to project the digital images for the presentation. I have been very thankful to have his technical help and support. Life-saving.

NOW to Books!!  I am still reading The House of Mirth for the Classics Club Spin, although very, very slowly at this moment. I am reading about 12 pages per day right now. Things will pick up! By the way, I finished Avalon by Anya Seton early this past week.

I had been zooming along in The Man in the Brown Suit, by Agatha Christie, but I ran into memory-retention problems when I could only read before falling asleep and no longer during the day. Deadly combination. So I'm laying it aside momentarily--I've lost a few of the important details, but I will  definitely go back and pick up all the slipped stitches as soon as Wed. May 22nd is over.

In the meantime, I had to have something to read before bed that wasn't too taxing mentally and for those rare moments when I take a break from work. I started reading a book by Dinah Jeffries that is set in Ceylon (today's Sri Lanka), in 1935, entitled The Sapphire Widow. It's a little more than romantic suspense. Perhaps romantic suspense with just a dash of thriller and a dash of mystery. A very fragrant setting! It's wonderful for those few moments when I can read.

Thursday, May 9, 2019

A Pre-Weekend Note about My Books & Thanks to Cleo!

Gosh--I'm halfway through Avalon, having started it on Sunday. I've noted that many readers  have said it's not their favorite by Anya Seton, and I concur with that. I think in large part it's the broad scope of the book, covering many years, which seems to have led Seton to forego lots of scenes  and dialogue and replace them with straight narrative, which  is nowhere near as compelling. But! That said, I am fascinated by the history and the story of a particular era in English history (the mid-late 900s) that I don't know well.

I must express my thanks to Cleo for a marvelous review of Agatha Christie's The Man in the Brown Suit (1924). This is not a Hercule Poirot novel, and is Christie's 5th published novel. I refer you now to Cleo of Cleo's Classical Carousel review. I have started to gobble it up. I am not a Christie fan, primarily because I'm not fond of the character of Hercule Poirot. But this one is so compelling with its young female lead. I have already referred several friends to it and we're all hooked.

More news of literary doings at my house in the North Country this weekend coming up! A viewing of The Godfather #1--We have not seen it for eons, and it's time. Mother's Day Weekend--a total damper on music and art doings in the area. (Bleh!) It's as bad a weekend as Easter as far as events are concerned.
But this weekend is the best of times for birding! International Migratory Bird Day is Saturday, May 11th. Do get out with a pair of binocs! Or just get out, rain or shine.



Saturday, May 4, 2019

It's Saturday Night! And Rain, Clouds, and Books Continue

Despite and in spite of the GLOOM, I walked today and to my delight heard and saw many migrating birds. (There was a southerly wind flow overnight, so I had a hunch I might hear some migratory birds.) I heard a yellow-rumped warbler, an ovenbird (an early arrival), a yellow warbler, and saw a large flock of brown creepers undoubtedly making their way to Canada for the breeding season. Lots of fun. Standing stock still and listening, binocs in hand at the neighboring beaver bog/marsh. I saw a flycatcher through the binocs, but have no idea which variety. Off-and-on drizzle and spattering rain challenged me, but I felt better for being out and birding.

In book news, I did set The House of Mirth by Edith Wharton aside for several days, but I plan to get back to it tomorrow. I don't want to lose all those threads! And I was enjoying it, despite the dark clouds.
In its stead this week, I ended up reading and thoroughly enjoying a novel by Dorothy Eden (1912-1982), published in 1967--Winterwood. Her gothic/romantic suspense/historicals were popular in the 1960s and early 1970s, but at that time I read only one or two. I believe I read Ravenscroft. What I appreciated about Winterwood was the way the scenes seamlessly blend together, which makes for excellent pacing. I read it in just a few days. And the characters are well-portrayed, especially the spirited, spunky 12-year-old girl who is the responsibility of the main character.

I'm not entirely sure, but I think my next novel will be Avalon by Anya Seton (1904-1990). Seton's novels still enchant historical novel lovers today despite the fact that she wrote them in the 1960s and 1950s? I need to do a little research there. I adored Katherine, which is about the wife of John of Gaunt in England in the 1400s, I believe.