March 22, 2017

Reading lives

Having recently worked my way through two not-all-that-engaging biographies of  people I was looking forward to knowing more about, I was reminded of how wonderful it is when the opposite happens ... those times when I've found myself reading, and loving,  a beautifully-told life of someone I didn't expect to find as interesting as I did.  That's even better, I think. :)

March 21, 2017

#PalliserParty: Can You Forgive Her?

After Trolloping our way through the #6barsets two years ago (and,on the whole, loving them) our friend JoAnn and I are starting to read the six Palliser novels, starting with Can You Forgive Her?   {We also just watched the first six episodes of The Pallisers, the 26-episode(!) Masterpiece Theater series which first aired in 1974.  I didn't really start watching M.T.  until about ten years later, so I only vaguely remember the incredibly long and detailed adaptations they did in those early days.  It was fun to watch, though a little dull, and it doesn't hold a candle to the book. But I wouldn't have missed the scenes in Episode 3 when Burgo Fitzgerald tries to borrow money from his aunt for anything. I think I might still have the vapors.}

Can You Forgive Her? introduces us to Alice Vavasor, a principled, young (but not very young) woman with a comfortable fortune who is engaged to marry John Grey, a scholar landowner. Years before, she had been engaged to her cousin, George Vavasor, but had broken off the engagement when she realized that he was a philanderer. Alice's father and her formidable aunts approve of her new engagement, but they are horrified when Alice re-engages herself to George and becomes a 'jilt' for the second time.  George, as it turns out, is mostly or only interested in attaching himself to Alice's money, to fund his campaign for a seat in the House of Commons.

It also reintroduces us to Plantagenet Palliser, an aristocratic and rising young Member of Parliament, and his wife, Lady Glencora, whom we met, in passing, in two of the Barsetshire Books. They have a new, arranged, and unhappy marriage; Plantagenet is stiff and scolding, and Glencora is young, flighty and still in love with Burgo Fitzgerald, the unsuitable man she had hoped to marry.

There's one more love story woven in, when Kate Vavasor, George's sister, visits her aunt, Mrs. Greenow, and becomes a witness to a love triangle among the wealthy widow, a clumsy but enamored farmer, Mr. Cheeseacre, and the rakish, romantic but debt-ridden Captain Bellfield (this plot thread seems to be there for comic relief).

On the whole, I think I'm glad that I read the Barsetshire novels first, because they instilled a love of Trollope in me that I'm not sure I would have gotten from this book, or at least not as much.  It was funny in places, and quirky in others (it was interesting to see how much time our Mr. T. spent describing rooms and furniture and wallpaper, and there was that deadly dull three or four pages describing a hunt).  And there were some odd moments, too, with characters sent off into oblivion (or at least to America) with a promise from the author that we'd never hear from them again) or brought into the story out of the blue {the woman who appears in George's room as he is packing to leave}. For me, I think it's mostly that there weren't any characters that I could really warm to, except for the steadfast Mr. Grey, and to be honest I think he deserved better. :)

This is sounding like I didn't enjoy Can You Forgive Her? - I did, very much, and definitely enough to look forward to what happens next.  We don't have a particular schedule in mind, but our #PalliserParty will continue, and we'd be happy to have you join us!

Can You Forgive Her?, by Anthony Trollope
First published in 1864
Purchased; Penguin Classics edition for Kindle (with terrible typos throughout!), and Audible edition narrated (excellently) by Timothy West

March 13, 2017

' Her Muse, when consulted, merely smiled...'

... and asked for tidings of Emma Woodhouse. For there are indications of a difference of opinion between them over the next story. In vain did the votary explain that her new heroine was to be a Jane Fairfax, a lovely, interesting and accomplished girl who had been brought up away from her family in refinement and comfort and who had returned home in circumstances which ... (Have we not heard this before?) ...
      But the Muse would take no interest in Jane Fairfax. She continued to ask, with great earnestness, why Miss Woodhouse was rude to the aunt.
      'That is not important. It is a minor incident.'
      'On the contrary it is a major incident. Was not Miss Woodhouse very sorry for it afterwards? Did she not cry all night?'
      'If she did, I shall not say so. She is not my heroine. She is the sort of girl I detest. She has an absurd opinion of herself.'
      'Still, you know, she learns. Those rich young ladies, upon whom you are so determined to be severe, can sometimes be amiable. If amiable, they correct themselves. Miss Woodhouse has an excellent heart which prevails over a faulty education. That, I think, is your subject.'
      'But if I take her for my heroine nobody will much like her.'
      'What does that signify if you like her?  The effort to do so may enable you to write a worthy successor to Mansfield Park.'
      'But what am I to do with Jane Fairfax?'
      'Do the best you can with her.'
      'She will never stay quietly in the background now. And the insolence to the aunt cannot be a major incident. The aunt is not sufficiently important.'
      'Leave that to me. Oblige me by liking Emma and I will send you an aunt.'
      'You will send me an aunt?' Here have I been, for eighteen years, imploring you for another Elizabeth Bennet, and you promise me a spinster aunt?'
      'You are very ungrateful. Not often in a thousand years do I send two gifts to the same person.'

from Jane Austen, by Margaret Kennedy

Because a spinster aunt is always a good gift. Always. :)


March 12, 2017

'...a heaven-born companion...'

      Comedy discriminates but does not reprove, has no general indignation, and is kindly to man, though laughing at his foibles, his fantasies, his inconsistencies and his egotism. It springs from that warm pleasure which we all feel, at times, in the human scene and in social life, in spite of all the sorrow and the evil and the pain. This pleasure is as true and vital an element in our experience as any other emotion. Its power to raise us above the level of the brute, to purify our hearts, may not be so exalted as the nobler, the more profound appeal of tragedy, but it is felt by us more constantly, and a special Muse has been put in charge of it.
      This Muse, beholding in 1796 the indecision of a chosen votary, took matters into her own hands. She granted one of the lightning flashes of pure inspiration which no artist can hope to experience more than once or twice in his life. She descended from Parnassus to Hampshire with a bait, a sample of the treasures to be found in her genial domain. The bribe was artfully fashioned:  a laughing, dark-eyed girl, no older than the votary, a heaven-born companion with whom to venture upon those untried slopes. It was accepted and then there was no turning back. with the creation of Elizabeth Bennet, Jane Austen was vowed to comedy.

from Jane Austen, by Margaret Kennedy

March 10, 2017

But I still love this goofy version...

Quite a number of people in this country have an impression that Jane Austen was an early Victorian -- a contemporary of the Bronte sisters. The motion pictures, which have recently shown us Jane Eyre, Catherine Earnshaw and Elizabeth Bennet, all in identical crinolines, must bear some of the blame for this; but not all of it. A vagueness about her date and period exists among people who should know better -- people who have read and admired her books. They know that she was pre-Victorian; the first swallow of a new summer. Actually, in so far as she belonged to any period, she was Georgian. The Victorians did not care for her; she belonged to an age from which they had too recently escaped.

from Jane Austen, by Margaret Kennedy {1950)

... and given the author and the subject matter, I have a feeling, though only on page 1, that I'm also going to love this little treat of a book. :)

Jane Austen, by Margaret Kennedy
Arthur Baker Ltd., 1950
Borrowed from the Boston Athenaeum

March 5, 2017

The Barsetshires and the Pallisers

As we've been reading the first of the Palliser books, it's been surprising to me that Lady Glencora's marriage to Plantagenet Palliser is so unhappy, for her at least. This is only because I remember that we first met them in Barsetshire, and there didn't seem to be a cloud hanging over their heads. Of course, I didn't remember much else {I realized a long time ago that my retention of what I read is really, really appalling}.

So I did a little bit of looking back, and was reminded that in The Small House at Arlington we had the whole story of Lady Glencora chucking Burgo Fitzgerald for Mr. Palliser ... and even better, one of my favorite scenes in all of the Barsets, the one where Mr. Palliser flirts so shockingly with Archdeacon Grantly's married daughter, Lady Dumbello. {I'm feeling a little faint just thinking about it, but if you must you can read about it here.} I should (sniff) have known I wouldn't like him very much, at least not so far.

And then I also found it interesting that Mr. T. published both The Small House at Allington and Can You Forgive Her? in the same year (1864). Of course, the whole joy of reading books in a series is that you get to meet your favorite characters again, but could this also have been a subtle bit of advertising?

In an event, we're midway through Can You Forgive Her?, and I think our #PalliserParty is off to a great start.

March 2, 2017

A Chelsea Concerto

Unlike the ebooks I could have borrowed when I had Amazon Prime, I initially thought that the ones available under the Kindle Unlimited would make subscribing to that service worthwhile ... especially since several of the new Furrowed Middlebrow books were included, like this one, and now this one ... until I realized, three months later,  that I could have just bought and kept the {limited number of} books that interested me, and still spent less. {Sheesh, I'm glad I'm listening to an audiobook about mindfulness...}  But this is just me being annoyed with myself, and I should be encouraging you to read this wonderful book.

The author {her real name is Olivia Faviell Lucas} was a portrait painter, in her mid-thirties, living in London's Chelsea neighborhood, and like her friends and neighbors, doing war work and helping to resettle refugees during the Blitz. What she describes, without flinching, is often unimaginable {because she was smaller than the first rescuers on the scene, she was lowered headfirst into the rubble of a bombed-out house, holding a flashlight in her teeth, to try to administer morphine to a dying man trapped inside; on other days, she worked with other volunteers to reassemble body parts so that families would have a complete person to bury; and then there's the ending...}, though at other times she and others find moments of lightness and hope {soothing grumbling refugees and stamping out little incendiary bombs that fall from the sky like fireflies, or the miraculous day when a beloved doctor's 12-year-old daughter is found alive, buried up to her neck in debris, four days after their house collapses}.

It's beautifully written, and I think I fell in love with it even before I started reading it, when Virginia Nicholson (a writer whose work I enjoy) said in her introduction that she learned of it by often seeing it referred to in other books she had been reading -- one of my very favorite ways to discover a book. {And I wanted to save what she wrote:  'There are books when we want to find out what happens, and A Chelsea Concerto is certainly one of those. But more than that, I found -- every time I turned to it -- that I relished its author's company. I wanted to be with her; I wanted to experience the Blitz through her eyes and sensibility.' }

I couldn't recommend this book highly enough {it's also out in paperback}.  I'm already sure it will be one of  the best books that I'll read this year, and if, like me, you might need a reminder that your troubles are so mild compared to others', this book is a lovely way to receive one. :)

A Chelsea Concerto, by Frances Faviell
Dean Street Press, 2016 (originally published in 1959)
Borrowed via Kindle Unlimited