— But you will be ready to say, what was your hope in doing this? — What did you look forward to? — To any thing, every thing — to time, chance, circumstances, slow effects, sudden bursts, perserverance and weariness ... Every possibility of good was before me, and the first of blessings secured ... — from Emma, by Jane Austen (1775-1817)
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April 6, 2018

Twenty-One Days

As a devoted reader of series mysteries, there is a long list of writers whose books I look forward to, and a long list of writers who write long lists of books. :)  Anne Perry is one of them; I have greatly enjoyed her historical mysteries about Thomas and Charlotte Pitt and William and Hester Monk. Like most good series, in my humble opinion, the pleasure of reading them is as much (more, really) about the characters and their personal and family lives than about the mysteries they solve. So when I read the last, and apparently the last, Thomas Pitt novel last year, I liked the hint that Anne Perry was going to take the series in a new direction, bringing in some new characters along with the old.

Time has moved forward, to 1910, and Thomas and Charlotte's son Daniel is now a young lawyer, placed in prominent chambers through the intervention of his father.  As the book opens, he's in over his head, defending a roguish special agent accused of murder.  It's only a small spoiler to say that he succeeds, because he's immediately called away to assist a more senior lawyer in representing a famous biographer accused of murdering his wife. When there's a guilty verdict, the lawyers have only the statutory 21 days to file an appeal, or find another culprit, before their client is hanged.  When their client won't talk, the elderly head of chambers tells Daniel to "act like a detective" and investigate.

What Daniel finds could ruin the reputations, and the lives, of characters in the earlier series, and as a plot device in this one, it seems a little over the top. Daniel thinks and talks a little too much like his father to be an especially interesting new character, though there are other promising ones, such as Miriam, the daughter of the head of chambers, who has studied medicine and does autopsies in her basement.  But all in all, I didn't mind; the sameness in these books has always been part of their charm, this is a very creative way to continue a series, and I'll look forward to reading the next book.

Twenty-One Days is being published next week by Ballantine Books; it was a treat to read and enjoy it a little early, courtesy of NetGalley.

Twenty-One Days:  a Daniel Pitt novel
Ballantine Books, 2018
Advance copy, courtesy of NetGalley

March 26, 2018

Elizabeth and Nathaniel and Sophia

      Nathaniel Hawthorne did not come alone that Saturday night, but with 'a hooded figure hanging on each arm':  his two sisters, the older bookish Elizabeth (known as as Ebe) ...and the younger Louisa, now the most sociable member of the reclusive Hawthorne family. The image of the strikingly handsome author in black cape and silks -- he made a point of dressing well in public, Hawthorne later confided, in an effort to conquer his reserve -- flanked by two women would become an indelible one...
      On November 11, Elizabeth welcomed the three Hawthornes into the parlor where they sat stiffly in a row. It was dark, or her guests might have peered out the parlor window at the neighboring cemetery, where they could easily have seen the gravestone of their ancestor John Hathorne, the 'hanging judge' of Salem's long-ago witchcraft frenzy, a few yards off. ... Elizabeth tried easing their shyness by showing off a volume of drawings she had borrowed from a Harvard professor... Succeeding in engaging her guests' attention with illustrations of the Iliad, she left them turning the pages to run upstairs to Sophia in her sickroom, 'Mr, Hawthorne and his sisters have come,' she burst out, 'and you never saw anything so splendid - he is handsomer than Lord Byron.' As Elizabeth told the story years later she urged Sophia to dress and come down to meet the writer, but Sophia refused. 'I think it would be rather ridiculous to get up,' Sophia tweaked Elizabeth, impatient at being pressed by her older sister in yet another of her enthusiasms. 'If he has come once he will come again,' she predicted.

from The Peabody Sisters, by Megan Marshall

This biography, which I'm enjoying very much, opens with the wedding of Sophia Peabody and Nathaniel Hawthorne, and that wasn't a spoiler (I already knew about their marriage from other reading).  But if these three 19th-century Boston sisters and their fractious relationship wasn't enough to draw me in, there was a hint, early on, of a love triangle among the studious, zealous, irritating, earnest oldest sister Elizabeth, the delicate, artistic, headache-suffering, youngest sister Sophia, and splendid Mr, Hawthorne, and I've finally gotten to that part. :)

There's a fascinating glimpse of Hawthorne and his own odd, reclusive family (his widowed mother, his two sisters, and himself, eating their meals alone in their rooms and sometimes not seeing each other for months) and of course I'm now longing to read more about him, but during my bus ride into work and my bus ride home, Elizabeth has coaxed Hawthorne into visiting, she has offered to help the young author with introductions and reviews, he has confided in her about his family life, and over the course of a few months they have reached an understanding.
Elizabeth Peabody was an unconventional woman --not unattractive,shiny-haired, slim and small -- a woman who talked easily and could coax a shy man to speak freely as well. She was also messy, headlong and headstrong. But Nathaniel Hawthorne was accustomed to unconventional women, both independent-minded and willful ones, like his older sister Ebe, and passive, retiring ones, like his widowed mother. For much of his life, Hawthorne had found the pull of these women...undeniable. Elizabeth Peabody was like them, but perhaps not quite enough. The same qualities that allowed her to help him professionally -- her enterprising, almost meddlesome nature -- may have begun to put him off.

And of course she has been telling him about Sophia, with her 'beatific suffering' and her artistic sensibilities. Poor Elizabeth.

      By March,Sophia was feeling 'better than for a month' and ready to contemplate the journey downstairs ... she knew that soon the clematis vine climbing toward her window would bloom, and she wanted to  gather the blossoms herself. Downstairs, too, she would find this strikingly handsome writer -- 'handsomer than Lord Byron' --  that her sister had been telling her about all winter long.
      We cannot know on which of the first voyages beyond her room during the spring of 1838 Sophia Peabody finally met Nathaniel Hawthorne face-to-face.  But on that day Sophia dressed herself in a 'simple white wrapper' and summoned just enough strength to reach the parlor, where she sank into the couch reserved for her use, interrupting a conversation between Elizabeth and Nathaniel Hawthorne.  'He rose and looked at her -- he did not realize how intently,' Elizabeth later recalled. The startled older sister watched as each of Sophia's infrequent remarks, delivered in her 'low sweet voice,' was met with that 'same intentness of interest.' ... Elizabeth, who had once accused her little sister of being a hypochondriac, had always suspected Sophia of retaining the power to cure herself when she felt like it.

Oh, my. :)

March 18, 2018

Only connect: Elizabeth Peabody and Madame de Staël

      [The books she was reading] raised questions that Elizabeth would have to answer whether  or not she married.  Should she put forward her own genius, or simply cultivate talent in others? Should she leave home to pursue her ambitions, or stay behind with her impoverished family, accepting only the work she could find close at hand? ... Elizabeth would have to decide whether to follow her family wherever her father would take them -- most likely back again to Salem -- or to pursue her own ambitions in a city like Boston that could support them.
      These were questions more often faced  by oldest sons than by daughters in the New England of the 1820s.  For Elizabeth, the decision to leave home would go against every convention of daughterly behavior she'd seen around her as she grew up, All the girls she knew in Salem would stay at home until they married. And those who never married would continue to live with their parents, caring for them in their old age. Yet her relative poverty may have seemed a blessing to her now, when her inmost desire was to further her education, to experiment as a teacher, and, then, perhaps to write. Financial necessity was a good mask for a woman's ambition or even for simple wanderlust. ...

from The Peabody Sisters:  three women who ignited American romanticism
by Megan Marshall

After I read Claire Tomalin's memoir last week, I was longing to read a biography next, and this one has been languishing on my shelves for much too long.  The Peabody sisters -- Elizabeth, Mary and Sophia -- grew up in near Boston in the early 1800s. I haven't gotten far enough into this book to know much about them, except that Elizabeth,  the oldest, became a prominent educator, and Sophia, the youngest, married Nathaniel Hawthorne {though there's a hint that Elizabeth had eyes for him first}.
By the winter of 1822, Elizabeth was reading an author ... suited to her professional dilemma:  Madame de Staël. ...  Bonaparte had banished the writer as an outspoken critic of his regime.  De Stael's uncompromising nature, her politics, her salon and her literary career all captured Elizabeth's imagination.  As she read, Elizabeth was strengthening her resolve to leave home.
As if a biography with ties to Boston wasn't enough to make me happy, this is one of those connections that I love to find when I read. When she was banished from Paris, Madame de Staël lived in Coppet, the town near Geneva where my sister lived for many years (a place she -- MdS, not my sister --  described as "a tomb where you can get mail").  I visited her chateau and read a little about her during one of my visits there.  So it was a treat to meet her again as a figure in the intellectual life of a young, well-read, striving girl, and I'm looking forward to seeing what happens next {and to finding out more about the love triangle (?) with Mr. Hawthorne}.

Elizabeth Peabody was 17 at the time this passage describes, already teaching school and discussing German philosophy with her friends, but the only pictures of her that I could find were of her as an elderly woman, so we'll just have to look back at her younger self along with her. :)

March 15, 2018

Dream job...

      Working on a biography means you are obsessed with one person and one period for several years. Another life is bound up with yours and will remain so for the rest of your own life -- that at least is my experience. You have gone in too deep to cast them aside. You have looked into the context of their lives in every aspect, examined their family backgrounds, their beliefs, their tastes, their eccentricities, their friends and enemies, their ambitions, achievement and failures, their quirks and mysteries, their betrayals and unhappiness, their political allegiances, their medical histories,their finances, their children, their reputations both in life and posthumous. You will have been surprised by them, maybe disappointed, amused, amazed.

A lovely, moving, engaging book, and an extra joy to read about the life of a biographer, one whose books you've read and enjoyed, one you've met in passing before, and one who {best of all} only turned to writing full time when she was in her fifties. :)

A life of my own, by Claire Tomalin
Viking, 2017
Borrowed from the Harvard College Library

February 26, 2018

For Dorothy Whipple, on her birthday

Jane, who shares so many wonderful things with us, has already introduced me to Margaret Kennedy and Margery Sharp {and to contemporary mystery writer Kate Rhodes}, so whenever she gives us a list, it almost always turns into a list of books I want to read.:)  In January,  she shared a wonderful 'Birthday Book of Underappreciated Lady Authors,' and the birthday list is already tacked up over my desk.  Today is Dorothy Whipple's birthday, and since I know so many of you read and love her books, I'm especially glad to be finally reading one now.

After looking at the descriptions on the Persephone Books website, I had my heart set on Greenbanks.The college library (oh, joy!) actually has many Persephones, or in some cases other editions of the books, but not this one ... so  I was thrilled to find that there was a Kindle edition.

I've been loyally reading The Portrait of a Lady on the bus, I'm about two-thirds of the way through, and I'm enjoying it so much. But on the way home on Friday, I couldn't resist reading just the first chapter of Greenbanks, and -- I'm so sorry Bellezza, and JoAnn, and Henry, I'll come back to you, but the trials and tribulations of the Ashtons have carried me away for now.:)

Have you read Greenbanks?  Which of her other books do you especially recommend?


February 14, 2018

The further adventures of Flavia

Alan Bradley's Flavia de Luce mysteries are among my favorites, and I always look forward to a new one. Flavia, in case you haven't met her, is a young {she was 11 for a long time, and I'm not sure how old she is now, but makes a passing reference to her braces}, wise-beyond-her-years, chemisty-obsessed girl living in an old English country house with her two older sisters, their faithful cook, and Dogger, a man of all trades who was imprisoned with Flavia's father during World War II and stll has frightening flashbacks.  A lot has happened to Flavia over the course of the books (in addition to the crimes she solves):  her long-lost mother Harriet has been found and finally buried, her father has just died, and she has inherited Buckshaw. It's a dispiriting time for all concerned, and as this book opens, Dogger has taken the sisters off for a much-needed holiday, and of course there's a suitably gruesome body for Flavia to find.

I found this book a little quieter than some of the others -- I think it's because the supporting characters don't feature in it very much -- but I wasn't disappointed (I never am). Flavia is still Flavia, I thought it was a good turn to show us more of her relationship with Dogger, and there's the promise at the end of an interesting new direction to look forward to.

The Grave's a Fine and Private Place has just been published by Random House. Thanks to  Netgalley for sharing the book with me.

February 11, 2018

Persephone no. 113: Greengates

I'm often drawn to books about houses, but as someone who once {thankfully not since} moved five times in six years, books about moving house, somehow appeal to me as well.  Or maybe it's books about new houses, since most of those moves felt like this ...

... especially this most recent one.{I love this poster, from the Persephone Books page about this novel.}

Greengates tells the story of the Baldwins, a middle-aged couple living in the outskirts of London, in a now-shabby house they called 'Grasmere.' As the book opens, Mr. Baldwin is retiring (literally, that day) from his job at an insurance company in the City; he eats his lunch, takes a walk, receives a small clock from his co-workers, and rides the train home, all as usual, but for the last time.  He is full of great plans:  he will bring his neglected garden back to life, and become a Historian, but instead there's a roller coaster of emotions, and frustrations, and small failures. His being at home all day is also hard on his wife; he reads in her favorite armchair, their finances are strained, and without anecdotes from their separate days, they quickly run out of things to talk about. Then, in desperation,  Mrs. Baldwin convinces him to go on a country walk as they used to. They follow the same footpath, to see the same view, and are surprised at how much things have changed; there are new roads, and dozens new houses being built, and they can't resist taking a look inside the new, clean, lovely modern show house. 

I had Greengates on my wish list mostly because I greatly enjoyed The Fortnight in September, and this one has some of the same feeling, but seems a little darker. {Is it my imagination, or do a lot of the Persephones have that thread running though them?} I found myself wishing that Mr. Baldwin would pull up his socks, and be less-self absorbed, and liking Mrs. Baldwin for her good heart; the small ordinary moments and the emotions that they feel are wonderfully observed and fondly drawn.   

The Persephone Readathon that Jesse hosted this month (thank you, Jessie!) was the perfect inspiration to catch up a little on the Persephones I want to read (and to share our common pleasure in them ); I'm even hoping to  sneak in another one. Jane has reminded us that it's Dorothy Whipple's birthday soon. I've never read her, though so many of you love her books. I'm not being verdant on purpose, but I was very happy to find Greenbanks for my Kindle ... and it's another one about a house. :)

.  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .

Jesse suggested that we list three Persephones from our wishlists, so here are mine (a slightly random selection, as there are a dozen others) ...

No. 119.  Long Live Great Bardfield, by Tirzah Garwood
{I take it back; this is one I long to read most}

No. 125.  Guard Your Daughters,  by Diana Tutton
{because the library had it, though not the Persephone edition,
and it sounds like fun}

No. 70.  Plats du Jour, by Patience Gray {because I also want to read
the new biography of Patience Gray that just come out}

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