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SassyLassy's Nineteenth Century

This is a continuation of the topic SassyLassy Goes back to the Past.

Club Read 2016

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May 3, 2016, 12:14pm Top

The beginning of this year saw me going back to the past for my reading, some of it rereads, much of it new. It didn't surprise me to find that many of my TBR books that fit into this category were from the nineteenth century, so this quarter most of my reading will come from that time.

Had I lived then and been of a certain class, I might have had a library like this:

Walter Scott's library/study at Abbotsford

More likely, I would have had to go to a public library like this one, the Dundee Free Public Library. I would probably have had to sit in a segregated reading room

Maryhill District Library Ladies' Reading Room 1907 (built in 1905, but probably little changed in concept since the nineteenth century)

and order books from the counter:

Anderston Library (now demolished)

May 3, 2016, 12:33pm Top

Great images! I had no idea that reading rooms were segregated.

May 3, 2016, 1:04pm Top

15. The Prisoner of Zenda by Anthony Hope
first published 1894
finished rereading April 6, 2016

Mistaken identity, that perennially popular theme, is the basis for The Prisoner of Zenda. Rudolf Rassendyll was a second son, a useless person in the eyes of his sister-in-law, herself married to Rudolf's elder brother, Lord Burlesdon. Rudolf saw things differently. In his words,
... I had picked up a good deal of pleasure and a good deal of knowledge. I had been to a German school and a German university, and spoke German as readily and perfectly as English; I was thoroughly at home in French; I had a smattering of Italian and enough Spanish to swear by. I was, I believe, a strong, though hardly a fine, swordsman and a good shot. I could ride anything that had a back to sit on; and my head was as cool a one as you could find, for all its flaming cover. If you say that I ought to have spent my time in useful labour, I am out of Court and have nothing to say, except that my parents had no business to leave me two thousand pounds a year and a roving disposition.

That "flaming cover" was a thorn in his sister- in-law's side. It had first appeared in the family back in 1733 when Prince Rudolf of Ruritania was visiting England. It was an ongoing reminder to the Rasendylls that the sixth Earl of Burlesdon, born six months after the Prince's departure from England, had an interesting background. The red hair and blue eyes had continued to appear sporadically among the Rasendylls over the following century and a half.

Rashly, Rudolf promised his sister-in-law that he would accept a position as an embassy attaché in six months. In the meantime, he decided to travel to Ruritania, where Rudolf the Fifth of Ruritania was to be crowned in three weeks. Rudolf Rassendyll only told his family he was going on a European expedition, for they had assiduously avoided any contact with the Elphberg dynasty of Ruritania.

Naturally, as soon as he crossed the border to this imaginary kingdom, people reacted strangely to him. Ruritania was caught up in an incipient struggle between the supporters of the new king and those of his half brother, Black Michael. The English Rudolf, a doppelganger for the Ruritanian Rudolf, confused many.

What follows is an adventure romance. The brothers both loved the same woman, Princess Flavia. Ruritanian Rudolf was captured by Michael. Rudolf's supporters convinced the English Rudolf to impersonate his distant cousin so as to avoid political unrest. He in turn fell in love with Flavia. It's all great fun. Like so many nineteenth century adventures, this is a novel that can be read on many levels, and so could be enjoyed by children and adults alike. I first read it as a child. The implications of the red headed Rasendylls were lost on me, as were some of the more complex question faced by the imposter Rudolf as his love for Flavia deepened, but I thought it was all a great adventure.

The adventure still resonated with rereading. Would Michael murder his brother? Would the impostor Rudolf be crowned? Was the real king worth rescuing?

Hope was writing at the end of the nineteenth century, a time when the threat of anarchy in Europe was real. The fictional German speaking kingdom of Ruritania is skillfully depicted by Hope as something familiar enough to English travellers not to appear outlandish, and yet foreign enough that civil unrest is believable. Hope was suggesting a degree of uncertainty in the future that many of his adult readers would have recognized. This uncertainty is further underscored in the character of Rupert of Hentzau, a dashing sort of cavalier, a gentleman by birth who refused to be bound by gentlemanly codes of conduct. English Rudolf admired Rupert in many ways, perhaps recognized a bit of himself in him, but Rupert's main role was to force Rudolf to decide on his own moral code. This was something completely lost on my younger self, a child who only saw Rupert as an exciting adventurer.

All in all, this was a completely fun reread of the novel. My Dictionary of Imaginary Places describes Ruritania as "a European kingdom reached by train from Dresden", and places it on a map between Germany and the former Czechoslovakia. Today, if the novel is remembered at all, it is for giving us Ruritania as a byword for unstable Eastern European states. However, if you are interested in adventure romances, or nineteenth century novels outside the classics, it is well worth reading. It shows up on LT in Graham Greene's Legacy Library, and I'm sure it would have been in George MacDonald Fraser's.

May 3, 2016, 1:20pm Top

>2 VivienneR: Thanks Vivienne. I love old libraries and always visit them on holidays. One of the things that struck me most in these photos with people from the era, is that I would have had to wear a hat out in public, something I never do except when weather requires a toque. As for segregation of reading rooms, who knows what impressions your reading choices might leave on others... French novels anyone? Seriously, this journal article looks as if it examines the question in more detail:


I'll have to see if I can find the full article anywhere.

Edited: May 4, 2016, 3:41am Top

>3 SassyLassy: ...and I'm sure it would have been in George MacDonald Fraser's.

If it could be proved that GMF had never read The prisoner of Zenda, I suppose we might be forced to conclude that the Flashman Papers really were the authentic memoirs of a retired Victorian soldier that he had found in a trunk somewhere... :-)

It is a fun read, but I found that it was rather difficult to keep track of the absurdities of Hope's plot once I had the similar, but not quite parallel, plot of Royal Flash in my mind.

I wonder why the book had such a big impact at the time? It must have done, given the way "Ruritania" has stuck in people's minds as a generic term for ridiculously small/imaginary states. The fate of small states would have been a hot topic thirty years earlier (at the time when Royal Flash is set), but in the 1890s, as far as British and American newspaper readers were concerned, it ought to have been pretty irrelevant: I would have thought that everything at that time revolved around either "Great Power" politics in Europe or colonial wars in the Caribbean and South Africa. Maybe it was simply the nostalgia factor that drew people to it?

Edited: May 4, 2016, 5:02am Top

>3 SassyLassy: Happy new thread. Heavens, haven't read Zenda since I was a kid, definitely whetted my whistle.

I do love pictures of writers libraries, study's, desks. The Saturday Guardian used to post one every week. I wish they'd collected and published the photos. One of my favourite books is Jill Krementz's The Writer's Desk, I love the cover photo of Eudora Welty at her desk.

May 4, 2016, 5:46am Top

>6 Caroline_McElwee: I wish they'd collected and published the photos.
They've archived at least some of them: http://www.theguardian.com/books/series/writersrooms

May 4, 2016, 6:25am Top

>7 thorold: thanks Mark, I'll take a graze through and remind myself.

May 4, 2016, 12:20pm Top

I think I read The Prisoner of Zenda when I was a kid, but I didn't remember it at all in your review.

May 4, 2016, 12:21pm Top

>1 SassyLassy: When I moved up to Wensley an old lead mining village in Derbyshire (England) almost the first communication I got from the village was an urgent meeting to decide what to do about the Reading Rooms. At the village meeting the proposal was to knock the building down so that the village pub could have more car parking space. I asked why the building had to come down and was informed that it would cost too much to repair. I noticed that many people at the meeting were unhappy with the building being demolished as it now served as a village hall. It had originally been built in the 19th century by a brewing company as a Reading Room. I said I would get it fixed if the people in the village wanted it kept. The old committee that ran the place resigned en block and when I eventually located the trust deeds I found that as a trustee I would have carte blanche to do what I wanted with it. We formed a new committee and within three years had raised enough money to carry out the repairs and make it safe again for use. When I left the village ten years later there was a new committee and it was functioning again as a village hall.

Obviously in the late 20th century there was no need for Reading Rooms in a small village, but there was still a need for a community hall of some sort especially as the pub closed down shortly after I moved in. Many people think that with car ownership these days that being two miles away from the next village is not a problem for most people, however there are many elderly people who can't drive or who don't want too drive at night. Villages need a community centre.

May 5, 2016, 9:59am Top

>5 thorold: Of course the papers are authentic memoirs! Seriously though, I had the same thought as I was reading Hope, but I suspect the main difference was that Rassendyll worried about violating any sort of code of gentlemanly conduct, while Flashman had no compunction about it whatsoever. Perhaps it's time to reread Royal Flash with Zenda still fresh in my mind.

As to the impact of the book, Tony Watkins in his introduction quotes Raymond Wallace as saying that at the end of the nineteenth century and beginning of the twentieth century such 'Cardboard Kingdom' novels had a common theme that was 'generally one of struggle for the sovereignty, the maintenance in power of the rightful sovereign, the recovery from a usurper, or the displacement of a despot'. He cites the fear of the decline of the British Empire and the fictional intervention of Rassendyll who represents that class supposedly best suited to maintain and rule the Empire, which is in line with your thinking about the colonial wars. Although he doesn't mention it, I think that some of the turmoil in the areas of current Turkey, Albania, Bulgaria and other eastern European powers was also a worry at the time Hope was writing. This may all be making of the novel something more than it was though. Reading Hope's thoughts quoted by Watkins, it seems that Hope thought of his novel as a romantic adventure. In Hope's words,
From romance and the romantic temper we gain fresh courage, fresh aspiration, fresh confidence in the power of the human spirit and in the unconquered confidence of the human mind.

>6 Caroline_McElwee: I share that love of seeing others' reading and writing places. Perhaps we think we can somehow absorb some of that creativity visually.

>7 thorold: Thanks for the link. I love that line "How could books drive me out of my book room?"

>9 rebeccanyc: There is a follow up novel, Rupert of Hentzau. Maybe it was that one that you read?

>10 baswood: What a great project. Living in a small community myself, with no public transit, I agree with you about community centres. The loss of anything community based erodes the whole structure.

You had me checking out Wensley. Previously the only thing I had known it for was the Wensleydale sheep, whose fleece is excellent for spinning.

Is this the place?

I now have an entirely different idea of Wensley after reading that the Domesday Book has it as 'Wodnesleie', meaning the clearing dedicated to Woden.

Edited: May 5, 2016, 12:15pm Top

I'm pretty sure I read The Prisoner of Zenda relatively recently, but I don't remember all the things you describe. I think that's because my memories from the book are blotted out by those of the movie (with Stewart Granger and Deborah Kerr) even though I saw the movie a looooong time ago, but it was one of my all time favorites.

May 5, 2016, 12:21pm Top

Thats the Reading Room in Wensley Derbyshire. We celebrated our marriage there eleven years ago.

However it is not the same place as Wensleydale which is in Yorkshire and which is famous for its cheese and its sheep. Wensleydale Yorkshire is about 80 miles north of Wensley in Derbyshire.

Confusingly there is a Dale just behind the Reading rooms and it is called Wensley Dale, however it is only a mile long as opposed to the one in Yorkshire which is 25 miles long.

May 14, 2016, 4:43pm Top

That's a great story Barry. I'm so glad you were able to save the Reading Room for the community to use. It's sad when these places disappear. I used to use a community hall in Avebury in Wiltshire once a month to co-run a storytelling and Poetry club. Within a year we were getting audiences of up to 80 especially on themed nights, though regularly thirty or so villagers would turn out (my sister lived in the village for five years).

May 19, 2016, 6:11am Top

Lovely and lively discussion of libraries and reading rooms!

May 19, 2016, 8:44am Top

Catching up - from your last thread Buccaneers sounds fascinating and I knew nothing of it. And thanks for the reference vis a vis Acadia.

Interesting to contemplate why Zenda was so popular at the time.

Love the reading room rescue anecdote. We've been through a number of rescues in my village here in Vermont. The latest in our sagas is saving a wonderful old hall built by the Modern Woodsman's Association (!!!) that has been languishing for decades. For a brief time we housed the library there (it is now in a re-purposed Congregational Church building) and somehow or other it ended up on NPR in a story about mold! I kid you not! There is a huge need for places to host events and get people together - we struggle to find them!

May 19, 2016, 11:52am Top

Back now after being away again.

>13 baswood: That's a wonderful place to be married. I picture the village turning out to wish you well.

Thanks for the correction on the sheep. Yorkshire had seemed right for their location, but the name was close enough to that in Derbyshire to fool me. I should be more careful. Of course, in this part of the world, 80 miles is close. Had I been driving, I would have studied the map more carefully.

>15 avaland: Imagine if houses were designed with reading rooms first! You have one of the best.

>16 sibyx: Some of my favourite reading rooms and libraries are in Vermont. Here are some photos of one of my favourites, the St Johnsbury Athenaeum

May 19, 2016, 12:32pm Top

From way back in April:

16. The Antiquary by Walter Scott
first published 1816
finished reading April 13, 2016

The Antiquary may be a surprise to those who think of Scott as a writer of adventure stories. There is action here, and drama too, but at heart it is a domestic novel.

The antiquary of the title is Jonathan Oldenbuck, a sixty year old bachelor devoted to his studies and determined to find evidence for Roman settlements in his small community on the northeast coast of Scotland. Oldbuck, as he was known locally, lived comfortably with his sister and orphaned niece, but yearned for more scholarly companionship.

One day, travelling home from Edinburgh, he found himself in the company of a young man, Mr Lovel, travelling to Oldbuck's local town of Fairport. Lovel was obviously an educated gentleman. Not only that, he was deferential and kind to the older man. The two struck up an acquaintance, with Lovel often visiting Oldbuck's home at Monkbarns. On one topic though Lovel maintained absolute silence. He would say nothing of his origins. It remained a high and doubtful question, what a well-informed young man, without friends, connexions, or employment of any kind, could have to do as a resident of Fairport. The Sheriff called on him just in case he was a French spy, but although his apprehensions were put to rest, the town was none the wiser.

While much is unknown to individual characters in this novel, in the person of Edie Ochiltree, Scott has created a wonderful source of community knowledge and at the same time given himself an opportunity to use humour and language to counteract the more Gothic tendencies of other parts of his novel. Edie is based on an old order of beggars, the Blue Gowns, for whom the laws against begging did not apply. In Scott's own words in his introduction, he gave Edie "something of poetical character and personal dignity". Roaming freely, without a home, fed in kitchens all over the countryside, Edie knew much of local goings on from the trivial to the truly consequential. He was an excellent judge of character. As reticent in his own way as Lovel, he chose carefully what information he would give to whom. His belief that he was as good as anyone did not allow him to suffer fools lightly, and this is the source of much of the humour.

While The Antiquary may at times seem like a quiet novel, meandering through everyday life, at its heart is the question of legitimacy. On the lighter side, there are the questions about the bits and pieces the locals bring to Oldbuck, pitching them as relics from another time. More seriously, there is the question of land ownership; of lands lost through the vagaries of history and church politics. There is the question of family origins and legitimacy of birth. The novel is set in 1794, and there are echoes of the old Catholic and Jacobite classes in their last opposition to the emerging middle class Protestants, posing the nationalist question of which side is right.

Lastly, there is the question of the legitimacy of the state. The Antiquary was written in 1816. The spectres of the French Revolution and Napoleon's rise and fall were still on people's minds. Some of the fears around the instability in Europe during the 1790s are played out offstage in the novel. The Battle of Waterloo, an episode which fascinated Scott, had just been won when Scott was writing, and the threat of war and invasion was felt to have been put to rest.

This was Scott's third novel and his favourite. Although he claimed Oldbuck was based on a friend, he is in many ways Scott himself. Just consider Oldbuck's home of Monkbarns and Scott's home of Abbotsford. This Oxford edition is from Scott's 1829 Magnum Opus edition, and in common with others in the series has the full set of footnotes, introduction and glossaries. If you've read other of Scott's works, this is an interesting side of him. He did not acknowledge his authorship of the novel until 1827.

May 19, 2016, 2:25pm Top

Thanks to you, I have Scott's The Heart of Midlothian on the TBR. I do mean to get to it, so thanks for reminding me of Scott.

May 19, 2016, 3:50pm Top

>19 rebeccanyc: The Heart of Mid-Lothian is a better one for starting. It may be my favourite to date.

May 19, 2016, 7:37pm Top

Enjoyed your review of The Antiquary

May 21, 2016, 5:08pm Top

>17 SassyLassy: wonderful reading rooms. That bottom picture reminds me of the Gladstone Library.

Jun 1, 2016, 4:30pm Top

>21 baswood: I think you would like Scott, but it's a long way to the nineteenth century from the Tudors.

>22 Caroline_McElwee: Deciding you didn't been the Gladstone library in Toronto, I looked up Gladstone's Library, which is amazing. It would be a wonderful place to stay. Thanks for mentioning it. Here is a link for anyone thinking the same thing: https://www.gladstoneslibrary.org/

Jun 1, 2016, 4:59pm Top

Still back in April. This next looked like it might be interesting for a road trip I was taking.

17. The Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafón translated from the Spanish by Lucia Graves
first published as La Sombra del Viento in 2001
finished reading April 23, 2016

The Shadow of the Wind is a novel about books, as well as the title of one of its own novels. Young Daniel Sempere, the son of a widowed antiquarian bookseller, found the novel when he was taken for the first time to the Cemetery of Forgotten Books. There the labyrinth of shelves held books no longer remembered by anyone, books that are lost in time, live forever, waiting for the day when they will reach a new reader's hands. As a first time visitor, Daniel was allowed to choose one book, to ... adopt it, making sure that it will never disappear, that it will always stay alive. However, Daniel could never tell anyone about the Cemetery or how he got the book.

My eleven year old self would have loved this novel and Daniel's adventures as he sought not only the author of his book, Julian Carax, but other works by Carax. However, someone was mysteriously destroying all of Carax's works and Carax himself was dead.

As Daniel got older, his quest became an obsession that took him through old Barcelona, the legacy of the Spanish Civil War, and Franco's Spain. Zafon has created an eccentric cast of characters around Daniel, with echoes of adventure novels of earlier times.There is Fermín, a homeless victim of Franco's torturers; the sadistic Inspector Fumero; Tomas, Daniel's best friend; the beautiful and blind Clara, but most of all there is Barcelona itself.

This novel is many things: a rhapsody about books themselves and how we succumb to them, a mystery, and a love story or two. It was engrossing in places, but somehow it fell flat. The blurbers compare Ruiz Zafón to A S Byatt, García Márquez and Borges. Stephen King was closer to the mark though in his blurb when he called it "a novel full of cheesy splendor and creaking trapdoors, a novel where even the subplots have subplots". Perhaps the author was trying to do too much. At 487 pages, he certainly could have done with an editor. All in all, not a bad thing for a few days away, but disappointing all the same for my adult self. As Daniel said, age is "the price we all must pay."

Jun 1, 2016, 5:21pm Top

>24 SassyLassy: I seem to remember liking The Shadow of the Wind when I listened to it several years ago, although there was some rather annoying music played at the beginning or end of chapters in the audio version. I can never understand why they feel the need to add music to an audiobook. I couldn't tell you anything about the book now though, so my memory about my feelings for the book are probably faulty.

Jun 2, 2016, 3:48am Top

I'll admit that I loved The Shadow of the Wind, but I can't say that I had anything approaching a critical eye while reading it. I was just sucked into the world Zafón had created.

Jun 2, 2016, 2:59pm Top

>25 NanaCC: An audio book of this would probably work really well, as it would give it the sense of a story being told which it deserves, although I would agree with you about the music.

>26 RidgewayGirl: I was completely sucked in too for large parts of it, but there was just something missing. I seem to be in a minority though, as there are more than 700 reviews on LT and although I certainly haven't read them all, the overall impression was positive.

I think the real test of how much I liked this book came last night when I was ordering from Book Depository's crime gatherings. This title was there and someone said there was a sequel, would I be interested in that. My thought was that if I saw it in a second hand store while on vacation, I probably would be, but I wouldn't order it.

Book Depository's crime books: http://www.bookdepository.com/crime-and-thrillers?utm_source=NL-Body&utm_med...

Jun 3, 2016, 7:48am Top

>24 SassyLassy: >27 SassyLassy:
I enjoyed it at the time (even though I had made the mistake of starting to read the ebook for Spanish practice without checking how long it was), but I think Mr King was right about "cheesy". It frequently felt like being trapped in a novelisation of a dodgy TV adaptation of Dickens.

Jun 3, 2016, 12:36pm Top

>24 SassyLassy: somehow it fell flat I agree Sassy, I read it years ago and felt the same, and wondered if it was something to do with the translation. My brother love the series though (I think it was the first of four).

Edited: Jun 5, 2016, 12:06pm Top

The Antiquary sounds like a must read to me!

Hmm. I'm cautiously intrigued by the Zafon.

Ah yes, the Athenaeum in St. J's. Courtesy of the Fairbanks family (scales, weights and measures), the 19th century tycoons of the town.

Jun 5, 2016, 1:18pm Top

I read Shadow of the Wind for my book club years ago, and I was the only person who disliked it. My impressions pretty much matched yours. I think I'd have liked the book if it were 200 pages long.

Jun 10, 2016, 10:10am Top

I'm surprised and relieved to discover how many here at LT have read The Shadow of the Wind.

>28 thorold: A good idea for language practice but did you learn lots of mid century slang?

>30 sibyx: Apparently it has had major staff cuts since I was there. I hope it doesn't suffer as a result.
The Antiquary is a real step back in time, not only in subject matter but also in style. I suspect you may have to be in the right frame of mind to read it. Luckily for me, I was.

Jun 10, 2016, 11:21am Top

Last go at April -- there is no touchstone to the English title, but if I enter the title in French, the touchstone appears in English

18. The Dream by Emile Zola translated from the French by Andrew Brown
first published as La Rêve in 1888
finished reading April 30, 2016

The Dream starts like a Hans Christian Andersen tale. It was Christmas Day, 1860, and a nine year old girl was freezing to death on the stone steps of a grand twelfth century cathedral, while snow fell all around her. Above her, the statue of another young girl, Saint Agnes, kept watch, surrounded by the images of the virgin saints who had escorted her to Heaven and Christ. The young girl was rescued and adopted by a childless couple, the Huberts, embroiderers of ecclesiastic robes and soft furnishings. The child's name was Angélique.

This is Zola --- the depicter of vice and sin, greed and lust? He had indeed accomplished his goal of writing "a book nobody expects from me".

All went well. At first the young girl seemed wild and untamed, but gradually she responded to the Huberts. Now the book began to seem more like Zola, a classic study of environment versus heredity, especially when the child's parentage is revealed. Angélique led a cloistered life in the ancient house attached to the church. There was a garden to enjoy, but it was enclosed by church buildings.

Angélique did retain a certain stubborn streak. She was obsessed by the stories in The Golden Legend, a fifteenth century telling of the lives and deaths of the saints. She dwelt on their stories, their tortures, taking them to heart, immersed in the iconography of the book. "So many abominations, and the joy of triumph, filled her with rapturous pleasure, more than any reality could." Zola details for page after page summaries of what Angélique was reading, suggesting a certain naiveté in the child, and encouraging scepticism and disbelief in the reader, while introducing the idea of martyrdom as a misplaced eroticism.
... death is an occasion for joy, and they defy it; relatives rejoice when one of their family succumbs. On Mount Ararat , ten thousand crucified martyrs expire. Near Cologne, eleven thousand virgins are massacred by the Huns. In the circuses, bones are crunched up by the teeth of wild beasts. ... Children at the breast hurl insults at their executioners. Disdain and disgust for the flesh, for the rags and tatters of the human body, sharpens the pain with a celestial thrill of pleasure. Let them tear that flesh, let them mangle it, let them burn it: all is well; again and again; never can it suffer agony often enough; and they all call out for the blade of iron, for the sword thrust through the throat that alone will kill them.

Saint Agnes was her favourite. She became a constant in Angélique's mind, as the child was convinced the saint was beside her always and knew her every move and thought. How could she risk committing a sin and disappointing such a guardian?

Angélique also loved stories of kings and queens, of battles and empires. She absorbed Norman history. She decided
... what I would like, what I would like, would be to marry a prince... A prince I'd never seen, who would come along one evening as dusk fell, to take me by the hand and lead me to his palace... And what I would like would be for him to be very handsome, very rich --- oh! --- the handsomest and richest who has ever walked the face of this earth. I'd like to hear horses whinnying beneath my windows, feel cascades of precious stones pouring across my knees, and gold, a shower of gold, a flood of gold, falling from my two hands as soon as I opened them... And what I'd also like would be for my prince to love me madly, so that I in turn could love him like crazy. We would be very young, very pure and very noble, for ever, for ever!

Reproached by her parents, the innocent child replies ... you'd soon see what I would do with the money, if I had a lot. It would rain down on the town, it would stream into the houses of the poor. It would be a real blessing: no more poverty!

Young princes are scarce on the ground though; more so when the young girl hoping for one works with her hands. At fifteen, Angélique fell in love with Félicien, a maker of stained glass windows. However, there is still a sense of religious ecstasy and mystery:
He emerged from the unknown, from the tremulous life of things, from the murmuring voices, from night's shifting shadows, from all that had enfolded her and made her feel so faint... He was escorted by the entire populace of the Legend , the male saints whose rods burst into flower, the female saints whose wounds wept milk. And the virgins soaring aloft all pure and white outshone the stars.

And so the undefined eroticism that Angélique had felt in her religious fervors had found an object. The young girl struggled to reconcile desire and spirit. Angélique is so believable in so many ways, that the strength of her faith seems natural. Zola knew just when to ground her and the reader, by supplying the background to her life: the daily work with its high levels of skill, concentration and artistry: the physical surroundings, even the washing of the laundry in the river. These details are needed for otherwise the reader might just float out the window of Angélique's pure white bedroom into the mystery of the garden below. Like Angélique in her room, the reader is torn between dreams and reality. This dilemma is played out to a conclusion only someone with the mastery of Zola would dare attempt; Zola, who tells his readers, "All is but a dream."

The Dream is an odd book to read following the pace and frenzy of Zola's The Kill and Money. However, several sources list it as following those two in the suggested reading order for Zola's Rougon Macquart series. There is almost nothing in the plot to connect it to that series; it could easily stand on its own.

This translation, like the other Zola novels I have read, is based on the Henri Mitterand 1986 editions. It is one of two 2005 translations, neither published by Oxford, the publisher I've been reading to date.

Jun 10, 2016, 5:24pm Top

Enjoyed your excellent review of La Rêve, Emile Zola

Jun 11, 2016, 11:19am Top

I enjoyed the book, but I like Zola's novels with broad social themes more.

Jun 11, 2016, 1:50pm Top

I so enjoyed catching up with your thread, getting lost in all these reviews. I think if I ever read Scott, The Antiquary might be the one for me to try. I agree with your assessment of The Shadow of the Wind, although I still really enjoyed it. LT as a whole led me to it.

And as I was reading all those Zola quotes all I could think was what a challenge that must have been to translate. Very interesting review and how different this Zola seems compared to all the Zola's that have been reviewed here.

And Bas, great story about the reading room. Kudos to you for that.

Jun 15, 2016, 8:36am Top

Fabulous review of the Zola book - I'm very tempted!

Jun 28, 2016, 8:56am Top

Jun 28, 2016, 12:23pm Top

What do you think of this one? I rather like their flag (England & Wales, not so much)

Jun 28, 2016, 3:42pm Top

That works well as an image. I rather like that, along with the forward and upward leaning green colour on the map.

The England and Wales, not so much as you say, although the empty white spaces at the top strongly suggest somethings are missing, which is appropriate. The pink part looks arrested and leaning back against the tide. Endless possibilities here.

Jul 1, 2016, 3:51am Top

The semiotics of a flag that puts St George and the dragon on the same team deserves to be developed a bit more - that one doesn't really do justice to the full absurdity of the case.

Jul 10, 2016, 4:45pm Top

I live in Northern Ireland and certainly Sinn Fein seem to be have new vigour behind their united Ireland agenda since Brexit. I personally am very proud to be British - just not so hot about this new economic uncertainty thrust upon as by a marginal vote. I don't think a united Ireland will come about as a result of Brexit, but eyeing the EU / non-EU passport queues at the airport last week I may well take up my right to get an Irish passport to avoid all that travel nonsense in the future.

Edited: Jul 14, 2016, 9:25pm Top

Over a month since I've done anything book related here, so time to get back at it. I think I was finding the idea of writing about this next book far too daunting.

Trollope counted this as two volumes, and although published together in on book in this particular edition, at 478 and 474 pages respectively, I will too.

19. and 20. The Way We Live Now by Anthony Trollope
first published 1875
finished reading May 18, 2016

Money is always a great topic for a novel, but when it involves banks and bankers, it seems just that much more enjoyable. Judging by the role it played in so many books at the time, the readers of the late nineteenth century certainly thought so. The introduction to the Oxford edition of Emile Zola's L'Argent (1891) mentions two fairly contemporary English takes on the same theme. One of these was The Way We Live Now. L'Argent had been such an excellent portrayal of capitalist ventures that I had to follow it up with the Trollope.

The Way We Live Now has a leisurely start. Trollope seems to have all the time in the world as he introduces the Carburys. The widowed Lady Carbury, "false from head to foot", is met first. In tight financial circumstances, she must support herself by her atrocious writing, which Trollope delights in mocking through judicious excerpts. Lady Carbury had two children: the dandified wastrel Felix, and her penniless daughter Hetta, who must be married off. Lady Carbury thought of her cousin Roger as a sort of default husband for Hetta, should nothing better turn up.

This sets up what might seem to be a fairly predictable Victorian novel. The hunt for wealth and marriage takes up most of Volume I, alleviated by Trollope's satire of the grasping world his sordid characters inhabit (the Marquis of Auld Reekie anyone?). Gradually though, a shadowy figure looms ever larger -- Melmotte, "the great financier". At first the reader sees him from the perspective of other characters, then Trollope focusses in on Melmotte himself.

In a world where family lines and class distinctions were paramount, Melmotte was a shadowy figure, "a man without a grandfather", content to let his past remain a mystery. Had he been involved in terrible financial frauds on the Continent? No one really wanted to know, for Melmotte proffered the hope of easy money through his South Central Pacific and Mexican railway company. No one wanted to know either if Melmotte was Jewish, as rumoured by those who wished him ill.

In 1873, the year in which the book is set, to the world of Trollope's contemporaries this was an important matter. The first Jewish judge had just been appointed, but that had no impact whatsoever on the world of Trollope's characters. Georgiana Longstaffe, quickly running out of marriage opportunities, desperately decides to marry Brehgert, an associate of Melmotte. Miss Langstaffe herself
was sure that there was at present a general heaving-up of society on this matter, and a change in progress which would soon make it a matter of indifference whether anybody was Jew or Christian. For herself, she regarded the matter not at all, except as it might be regarded by the world in which she wished to live. She was herself above all personal prejudices of that kind. Jew, Turk, or infidel was nothing to her. She had seen enough of the world to be aware that her happiness did not lie in that direction, and could not depend in the least on the religion of her husband.
Georgiana may have been giving herself too much credit for being open minded, for Trollope shows that Breghert's wealth and the independence he could give her were a large part of her decision. Unfortunately for Georgiana, her father had been among those voting against allowing Jews in Parliament, a situation that had only recently been remedied, and he was adamant in his refusal to allow her to marry.

Others were more willing to make allowances. Melmotte had become so powerful financially that both Liberals and Conservatives were willing to overlook his origins as they vied for his candidature. Of what use are the established ways when money and power are at stake?

This is the whole basis of Trollope's diatribe that became a novel. Melmotte is but one symptom, albeit a very powerful one, of the decay of society in what was probably the wealthiest city in the world at the time. Lord Nidderdale, the son of the Marquis of Auld Reekie, suggests only half in jest that it would be much simpler to go courting if heiresses' worth could only be posted somewhere. The younger classes in so called polite society, titled or not, are portrayed as useless, contributing nothing to society. Take Sir Felix Carbury:
He had never read. Thinking was altogether beyond him. And he had never done a day's work in his life. He could lie in bed. He could eat and drink. He could smoke and sit idle. He could play cards; and could amuse himself with women -- the lower the culture of the women, the better the amusement.
The weakness of such a wealthy society attracted speculators from abroad, not only from Europe like Melmotte and Brehgert, but also Americans, keen to attract unsuspecting investors unfamiliar with their world. Again, society had to adjust its ways to accomodate or not such brash outsiders, the decision often resting on their portfolios.

The Way We Live Now, Trollope's thirty-third novel, was written after Trollope had been away from England for some time and then returned, looking at it with fresh eyes. John Sutherland, the Oxford edition's editor, quotes Trollope's Autobiography on Trollope's thoughts on this novel:
a certain class of dishonesty, dishonesty magnificent in its proportions, and climbing into high places, has become at the same time so rampant and so splendid that there seems to be reason for fearing that men and women will be taught to feel that dishonesty, if it can become splendid, will cease to be abominable. If dishonesty can live in a gorgeous palace with pictures on all its walls, and gems in all its cupboards, with marble and ivory in all its corners, and can give Apician dinners, and get into Parliament, and deal in millions, then dishonesty is not disgraceful, and the man dishonest after such a fashion is not a low scoundrel. Instigated, I say, by some such reflexions as these, I sat down in my new house to write The Way We Live Now.

This was a more uneven book than Zola's L'Argent. Trollope changed his focus as he wrote, starting off with the Carburys, moving on to Melmotte, and then ending in a more conventional fashion with the Carburys. Melmotte isn't as well developed as Zola's Saccard, but as a further look at money and nineteenth century society, The Way We Live Now certainly delivered.


edited to correct typos

Jul 13, 2016, 11:50am Top

Another fine review Sassy.

What a prolific writer he was too. I can't imagine a contemporary writer penning as much fiction as the likes of Trollope and Dickens and Balzac et al.

Jul 13, 2016, 9:21pm Top

Great work! I think Trollope was more interested in the impact of people like Melmotte, and in their role as a symptom of societal ill, than in Melmotte as a person.

Jul 13, 2016, 9:47pm Top

It was nice to read one of your long reviews again. Enjoyed it quite a bit.

Jul 14, 2016, 3:35am Top

>43 SassyLassy: Nice! The way we live now just jumped a few places up my TBR...

I suppose there are plenty of other novelists who have powerful magnates and capitalists as villains, but Trollope seems to be especially interested in the way contact with the powerful corrupts other people - with the Duke of Omnium, Scratcherd, Palliser and the rest, the focus always seems to be not on them but on the way the people around them get sucked into acting against their own moral principles by the hope of a marriage, job, or inheritance.

Jul 14, 2016, 4:57pm Top

Interesting thoughts on Trollope and dishonesty and it was good to read that extract from his biography.

Jul 15, 2016, 9:09am Top

>44 Caroline_McElwee: and >46 dchaikin: Thanks. Caroline, I think perhaps our contemporary writers have more difficulty finding the long daily stretches of time required to pen that amount of fiction, nor do they have the time for the observation of people that inspired those writers. As I say that, it also occurs to me that contemporary writers may not have the social interaction on a face to face level that can never be equalled with devices.
While not as prolific as nineteenth century writers, I think of someone like Annie Proulx who goes to great lengths to get to out of the way places to find the seclusion to write. This is where The Shipping News was written in part:

Dan, I sometimes wonder about the length of my reviews, but since I write them in part for myself to go back to when reading related works, they help. I always enjoy long reviews by others.

>45 lyzard: I would agree that Trollope was more interested in Melmotte's impact than in Melmotte himself, as the title suggests. It was a good way to view the society, but I had liked Zola's portrayals of Saccard so much, I suspect I was hoping for another such character. It says something of Trollope's and Zola's individual genius that they knew where to focus their writing.

>47 thorold: This was actually the first Trollope I have read (she said, embarrassed), although I have had good intentions in the past. I now know I will read more of his books. This one had been recommended as a stand alone, so I thought I would start there. While I was familiar with the focus on power and marriage, as I creep through the nineteenth century, I am amazed at how often financiers appear, and how they are portrayed.

>48 baswood: It seemed very fresh in light of certain public figures today. Thanks

Jul 15, 2016, 9:16am Top

I too read The Way We Live Now as my first Trollope -- and I was hooked!

Jul 15, 2016, 11:22am Top

Re prolific contemporary writers -- there is Joyce Carol Oates, and I suppose, Stephen King.

Jul 15, 2016, 2:06pm Top

>50 rebeccanyc: Yours was part of the recommendation, a friend who studies Trollope was the other part, so thanks for yet another good lead.

>51 janeajones: Now you have me making mental lists, but I suspect it will be difficult to beat JCO for sheer volume.

Jul 15, 2016, 2:46pm Top

21. The Morville Hours by Katherine Swift
first published 2008
finished reading May 26, 2016

Although it was a present, The Morville Hours had languished in various TBR piles for some time. It had been picked up several times but never actually started. Odd biases kept me from committing. I didn't like the cover. It looked too much like a Kate Morton book someone had foisted on me. The blurbs seemed overdone. You get the general idea.

Then one day I decided it was time to just read it. By page four I was hooked. Who could resist an author who says "We moved to Morville August 1988 with two removal vans full of books, three cats and two carloads of plants." Moving vans full of books, cars full of plants, the odd cat ... what more was needed?

Katherine Swift wasn't content to just shelve the books and sit down in her new garden with a glass of wine though. This woman had an obsession and at the Dower House at Morville she was going to live it. Swift had been a rare book librarian at Oxford and at Trinity College, Dublin. She was immersed in the past, in the rhythms and lore of daily life as it moved throughout the seasons, changing little from one year to the next. She also knew the Hours of the Divine Office, the structure of prayer, work and study which guided life in monasteries. These two came together in Books of Hours, guides for the laity.

Swift the librarian tells us
Books of Hours are the most numerous class of books to survive from the Middle Ages. They are at once the most visible and most intimate of medieval books, very widely disseminated yet used in an intensely private manner by individuals , often women, in the privacy of their own chambers. ... The middle classes bought them ready-made; the wealthy commissioned them splendidly made in gold and colours, with special prayers to their patron saints and miniature paintings by the greatest artists of the day into which their own portraits might be incorporated as bystanders - looking on at the Nativity, as it were - or their favourite castle adopted as the backdrop to some scene of rural life.
Such books became treasured family heirlooms, but by the time of Elizabeth I, they had been replaced by the Book of Common Prayer, which eliminated all Papist references and relics of superstition. The closest thing our contemporary world has is almanacs.

In the peace and quiet of rural Shropshire, on land literally filled with history, Swift decided to create a garden that reflected the past and the Hours. Her own labour was governed by the local church bell, striking the quarter hours as it had for centuries, with its message "Only Here, Only Now", the message all gardeners know. Areas were sectioned off to reflect different eras, different needs. Plants were selected for their connection to the place.

There is far more than the garden here though. There are reflections on everything: the marauding forces who crossed the land over centuries of history, the stars above, The Wind in the Willows, medieval tapestries, Reformation plundering . Astonishingly Swift is able to organize all this within the framework of the year, matching Hours to months. She starts with Vigils, the first office of the day often performed at midnight, equating it with January and the New Year beginning in the dark of January, as Janus looks both back and ahead. She ends with Compline, the last office of the day, as December closes out the year. At times she struggles: "Too many disconnected facts and too few answers." Boundless curiosity has her searching them out.

Swift and her husband had a twenty year lease for the house and the garden from the National Trust. However, she tells us "My husband didn't garden." At some point, Swift continued on by herself. While she doesn't dwell on this, the book in some ways became for me an unvoiced meditation on the cost of singlemindedness, of forsaking all else. At the end, the twenty years were up, fitted neatly into this single year chronicle, but the question of What Now? loomed over her creation. It's a question anyone who has imagined something and then brought it to fruition knows well. Luckily for Swift, her historical perspective allows her to accept that no matter what, there will be another story for her, and for the garden.

Jul 15, 2016, 3:00pm Top

Some of Swift's interpretations of time past:

The Roman Canal Garden

The Medieval Cloister Garden (entrance)

The Edwardian Fruit and Vegetable Garden

last two photos by Jane Sebire

Edited: Jul 16, 2016, 6:40am Top

>53 SassyLassy: The Morville Hours is one of my favourite books Sassy, and one I have gifted often (twice to one friend inadvertently!) I may have to take it off the shelf for a reread soon.

Funny how book covers really do have an impact. I'm sure I've passed over many a fine book because I didn't like the cover.

Jul 17, 2016, 1:27pm Top

>55 Caroline_McElwee: Since I finished it in May, and was writing about it almost two months later, I found myself rereading large sections. Like many of my garden writing books, I can see myself returning to it many times. Have you been to the garden? One of the things that amazed me on reading about it and looking at the layout, was how much she was able to fit into a relatively small space.

I see the next book by Swift has the same illustrator for the cover, so there must be many more who like it than who don't, but then I was partial to the old orange and white Penguin covers. Who knew what lay inside?

>48 baswood: The Oxford World Classics website tells me that Trollope's Autobiography is being published this month. I just saw that last night.


Here is my current minor quandry: I have the next Zola to be read (I'm two behind on posting) in a Penguin edition with a Robin Buss translation, which has been on the TBR since 2002. Most of the books I have read so far this year in the series have been translated by Brian Nelson for Oxford. Having read other works translated by Buss, I have no problems with his translations, but would it interfere with the continuity of the series to switch to Buss? I think I will start with the Buss edition already in the house and possibly get the Nelson one for further reference. How would others handle this, or would it even be a concern?

As a side note, do we still have Questions for the Avid Reader?

Jul 18, 2016, 9:58am Top

>56 SassyLassy: I read a mixture of Penguins and Oxford World Classics when I read Zola -- whatever the bookstore had. And no, we don't still have Questions for the Avid Reader, but you could start a thread.

Jul 18, 2016, 11:28am Top

>57 rebeccanyc: Good to know that the mixture works.

I did just start a Questions thread to see where it goes.

Jul 20, 2016, 12:39pm Top

Terrific review of The Morville Hours. I find out about such interesting books from CR that I'd never have come across otherwise.

Jul 20, 2016, 4:12pm Top

>43 SassyLassy: Excellent review of The way we live now. I'm looking forward to this one. It's been on the tbr shelf for a while but I plan to finish the Barchester series first.

And, I've added The Morville Hours to my wishlist. Another excellent review!

Jul 21, 2016, 5:22pm Top

Enjoyed your review of The Morville Hours It does sound a bit obsessional, but then again it also sounds as if her own faith and her relationship with the past made it a spiritual journey.

I have seen a couple of exhibitions of Books of Hours from the medieval period and they are wonderful historical artefacts and of course the first books.

Jul 28, 2016, 10:47am Top

>55 Caroline_McElwee: It is certainly a book for rereading, even if it is only by dipping here and there as the year goes by.

>59 AlisonY: and >60 VivienneR: I think you would both like it based on your other reading.

>60 VivienneR: I am really impressed by how so many in LT have been reading whole Trollope series. I can see the attraction and could be tempted! The reason I chose The Way We Live Now is that rebecca and someone who reads a lot of Trollope had both recommended it as a good stand alone.

>61 baswood: It was definitely a spiritual journey for Swift and a very worthwhile one on all kinds of levels. I think it just raised the question for me of how to balance our personal obsessions with the lives of those with whom we live. It was the question of personal fulfillment through pursuing something so wholeheartedly, and perhaps losing something that was equally as important, if not more important, in another part of life. Not well expressed, and certainly not a topic that she dwelt on, but something that disturbed me.

Books of Hours are magnificent and Swift obviously knew her subject. Every time I see replicas in museum or art gallery gift shops I am sorely tempted, but they always seem to cost a medieval king's ransom. Someday.

Jul 28, 2016, 11:32am Top

May's Zola

22. The Conquest of Plassans by Emile Zola translated from the French by Helen Constantine
first published in serial form as La Conquête de Plassans in Le Siècle, February - April 1874
finished reading May 30, 2016

After the decidedly secular world of Paris in The Kill and L'Argent, with a brief escape to the world of La Rêve, Zola returned to the bourgeois conservative world of the provinces in The Conquest of Plassans. He had started his Rougon Macquart series in the fictional town of Plassans, based on his own home town of Aix-en-Provence. The first novel in the series, The Fortune of the Rougons, detailed how Pierre Rougon, guided by his son Eugene, a government minister in Paris, had gained political control of the town for Napoleon III. The Conquest of Plassans details the ongoing political infighting in the town some ten years later, as political control in the larger world was being contested once again.

Marthe Rougon, the youngest of Pierre's children, had married her first cousin, François Mouret, son of Ursule Macquart, Pierre's illegitimate half sister. Marthe and François had a comfortable uneventful life focussed on their children and garden.

Into this pleasant existence came Abbé Faujas, to whom they rented rooms on the second floor of their house. Marthe was extremely reluctant to have her peaceful life interrupted by such an arrangement, but their parish priest had insisted and she had no choice. The arrival of Faujas was sudden, and unexpectedly he was accompanied by his mother.

Immediately the reader know things will not turn out well. Madame Faujas examined the pretty house and garden minutely "like someone visiting a property for sale". As Abbé Faujas looked out his window that first night before going to bed, he
... stretched out his arms in an ironic challenge, as though he wanted to pull Plassans to his broad chest and suffocate it. He muttered:
' So much for those fools smiling this evening as they saw me crossing their streets!'

Naturally the reader has no idea what prompted this outburst. The townspeople knew there was a mystery as Faujas had been dismissed suddenly from his previous post, but it was impossible to discover why. Gradually the scarecrow priest established himself in the community by becoming the favoured confessor of the ladies who mattered. His clothes became finer, his arrogance more pronounced. One day his sister and brother-in-law arrived and they too moved into the second floor flat.

As the priest started worming his way into the town's competing political classes, it became obvious he had some powerful backing, but who or what was it? Mouret became obsessed with the question, while Marthe became obsessed with religion through the priest's spiritual guidance. Faujas was conquering Plassans bit by measured bit.

Zola returns to his exploration of heredity in this novel, in particular the question of heredity and mental disorders. Skilfully he has Faujas play on the Mourets' susceptibilities as the priest works to accomplish his goals, allowing Zola to express some of his strong anticlerical feelings. There is no question that the ending will be dire. However, how it is actually managed is a complete surprise, accomplished in a frenzy that few writers could manage successfully, another example of Zola's creative genius.

Jul 30, 2016, 3:47pm Top

Glad you enjoyed The Morville Hours. I loved it but did come to feel as I was reading that there was something uncomfortable below the surface, and of course there's the departure of her husband, who, she said at the beginning, had found this property as a way to lure her back from Dublin (my copy is inaccessible so can't remember exactly how she put it). She writes with tremendous joy and enthusiasm nonetheless, and, as you indicated, there's just so much information on so many things.

I knew that the book had also been published in an edition illustrated with photographs, but I didn't want to look at them in case they disappointed (and anyway I liked the line drawings in the original version), but it was nice to see the pictures you've posted. I will now look for more. After The Morville Hours I read Four Hedges, a different sort of book, but one which I found somehow complemented Swift's. I think you read them the other way round.

Jul 31, 2016, 11:08pm Top

Enjoyed your Zola review.

Aug 2, 2016, 10:21am Top

>64 Oandthegang: I did read them the other way around and although I hadn't thought of it before, that was another relationship which dissolved. As a gardener,
I have to believe it's not the gardening which does it though!

The line drawings were apt and the same illustrator has contributed to The Morville Year. Leighton's wood cuts in Four Hedges were beautiful though.

>65 dchaikin: Thanks Dan

Edited: Aug 3, 2016, 10:01am Top

Wilkie Collins is a favourite author of mine. I turn to his books when reading is not going well, as they have never disappointed. June was a bad reading month and this was the only book I managed to finish.

23. Poor Miss Finch: A Domestic Story by Wilkie Collins
first published in weekly instalments in Cassell's Magazine October 1871- March 1872
during this time, also published in 3 volumes (January 25, 1872)
this Oxford edition from Collins's 1875 revised edition

Collins is perhaps best known today for writing The Moonstone, often called the first detective story. However, there is so much more to recommend him. He had some of the strongest fictional female characters of the Victorian era, many of them deliciously pure evil. Lydia Gwilt, "bigamist, husband-poisonor and laudanum addict", Margaret Sherwin and Magdalen Vanstone are all wonders of their kind. Collins was not just a sensationalist though. He was a reformer, concerned about those whom society passed by. He had a particular interest in those with physical limitations. He addressed deafness in Hide and Seek. Poor Miss Finch addresses blindness.

The story of Miss Finch is told by Madame Paratolungo, a French widow just engaged by Miss Finch's father as a companion for his daughter. Madame Paratolungo was a woman of decided opinions. She wasted no time in telling her readers
In the scattered villages of the South Downs, the simple people added their word of pity to her name and called her compassionately - 'Poor Miss Finch'. As for me, I can only think of her by her pretty Christian name. She is 'Lucilla' when my memory dwells on her. Let me call her 'Lucilla' here.

We are not to think of Lucilla as a figure to be pitied, but rather as the determined young woman she is; a person with the same concerns and interests as anyone else of her class and age.

Victorian novels all provide their heroines with a love interest and to make Lucilla fit in to this mode, Oscar Dubourg is introduced. This fine young man was hiding away in the hinterlands of Sussex due to his embarrassment and shame at having been wrongfully tried for murder. He was saved from the scaffold by the testimony of his brother Nugent, his identical twin.

Already this seems a bit much. Lucilla fell in love with Oscar, could tell the brothers apart, but would Nugent try to deceive her? This is the kind of far fetched plot which has made many throw up their hands at the idea of reading Collins.

Here Collins introduces the moral dilemma of the novel though. An eminent German surgeon believes that through a new treatment, he can restore Lucilla's sight, lost when she was a small child. Should she risk it? In his Letter of Dedication to the novel, Collins said
As for the object which I have had in view in writing this story, it is, I hope, plain enough to speak for itself. I subscribe to the article of belief which declares, that the conditions of human happiness are independent of bodily affliction, ... and this is the impression which I hope to leave on the reader when the book is closed.

In the meantime, Oscar had started receiving treatment for seizures resulting from a head injury. At that time, the treatment was silver nitrate, used very little because it led to hideous disfigurement, which of course Lucilla could not see. No one had told Lucilla of the disfigurement and Oscar was convinced she would reject him at first sight. Should she be warned if she went ahead with the surgery?

Catherine Peters, who wrote the Introduction to the Oxford edition, said "Collins's plot is a spider's web of improbabilities" with superficial absurdities" This is so, but it is also the case as she goes on to say, that
The odd disjunctions and connections in the story have a magic resonance, characteristic of myth and fairy-tale, and there are haunting fragmentary echoes of Apuleius and Ovid, Perrault and Grimm.

Collin's book still works today because of this age old way of delivering the message.


Other books I have read by Collins
Hide and Seek
The Dead Secret
The Woman in White
No Name
The Moonstone

On the TBR pile
Man and Wife
Jezebel's Daughter

Aug 5, 2016, 12:20pm Top

Sounds great, but I still have Hide and Seek on the TBR, at your recommendation.

Aug 5, 2016, 4:16pm Top

>68 rebeccanyc: I suspect that of the two, I would come down on the side of Hide and Seek. I would have to agree with "the spider's web of improbabilities" comment in the introduction to Poor Miss Finch, but then Collins is more than capable of sorting them all out.

I see you have The Moonstone, which I would have recommended. The Woman in White and Armadale are also favourites.

Aug 6, 2016, 9:25am Top

>69 SassyLassy: I read The Moonstone decades ago, and I'm not sure where it is.

Aug 7, 2016, 6:22pm Top

I have not read any Wilkie Collins and it was great to read a review of one of the lesser known novels.

Aug 8, 2016, 4:03pm Top

>71 baswood: I'm not sure if left to my own devices I would ever have read Wilkie Collins, but when I was about 12 or so, my granny gave me a book by him and I have been hooked ever since. Just one more thing to thank her for. It's odd how some of his more reform minded novels have faded from view and the more sensational ones are the ones we know now, but he really did work to expose injustice, wrapping it up in those crazy plots.

Aug 8, 2016, 4:33pm Top

Great review - I've not heard of this Collins book before. Sounds absurd but yet absorbing.

Edited: Aug 9, 2016, 9:17am Top

As mentioned above, June was a reading drought, so I did not finish June's Zola until early July.

24. Pot Luck by Emile Zola translated from the French by Brian Nelson
first published in serial form in Le Gaulois from 23 January - 14 April, 1882, first published in book form 1883
finished reading July 3, 2016

My reading of Zola has not been chronological, but rather has used Zola's suggested reading order. It seems that the author periodically needed to spend some time setting up the next novel, and Pot Luck, to me, was one of those novels, leading as it does to Au Bonheur des Dames. Necessarily, some time is spent with new sets of characters. That doesn't mean Zola let up on his attacks on one of his favoured targets; the middle class, with its bourgeois craving for respectability and money receives no mercy.

In the Paris of The Kill and L'Argent (Money), Zola wrote of the destruction of parts of Paris to make way for Haussmann's beautiful boulevards, lined with lovely new apartment buildings, designed to present a uniform appearance from the street. Naturally, lesser apartment buildings were also being built, these ones off the fine boulevards. In Pot Luck, Zola takes us inside one such bourgeois block on the Rue de Choiseul.

Octave Mouret, son of the Mourets from The Conquest of Plassans, was newly arrived in Paris, determined like so many of his extended family to make his fortune. Campardon, an architect married to a relative of Mouret's, lived in this set of apartments with his family. Campardon had arranged for a room on the top floor for Octave, who would eat with the Campardons.

From the very first page, Zola sets out to describe the sham and hypocrisy of the building and its tenants.
There was a certain gaudy splendour about the hall and staircase. At the foot of the stairs was a gilt figure of a Neapolitan woman with a jar on her head, from which issued three gas-jets in ground glass globes. The imitation marble panelling, white with pink edges, went right up the staircase at regular intervals, while the cast-iron balustrade, with its mahogany handrail, was an imitation of old silver, with thick clusters of gold leaves. A red carpet with brass rods covered the stairs. But what struck Octave most on entering was the hothouse temperature, a warm breath which seemed puffed by some mouth into his face.
Campardon was all too anxious to impress upon Mouret the respectability of the building and its residents. As he walked with him up to the fourth floor, he told him, "The house is a very fine one, very fine." A few steps later, "My dear fellow, the house, as you will see, is very comfortable and only lived in by very respectable people." Campardon proffered brief sketches of all the occupants except those on the second floor front. When they reached Mouret's room, Campardon delivered the clincher:
The only thing, my boy, is that there must be no noise, and above all, no women. My word! If you brought a woman here there would be a revolution in the house. ... You can see what the house is like. They're all bourgeois people and terribly moral.

This outline was yet more sham.

Campardon had also found a job for Mouret as head assistant at The Ladies' Paradise, a small draper's shop. .

The apartments in the Rue du Choiseul had rooms on the top floor for the female servants. These girls and women are continuously depicted gossiping about their employers' households in the worst manner, as they toss out the actual filth from the apartments into the fetid courtyard behind the respectable face the building presented to the street. "All the secret corruptions of each floor seemed to fuse into each other in this stinking drain."

There was always something to gossip about. Many of the residents of the block were having affairs, often with each other. Many of the men of this respectable establishment visited the servants on the fourth floor at night. Madame Josserand was all but prostituting her two daughters in her efforts to find them husbands, a source of endless mirth to the cooks and housemaids. She was certainly the worst employer in the block, unable to keep servants until the arrival of Adèle.
As a matter of fact Adèle, fresh from Brittany, dirty and stupid, had been the only one to stay in this pompous, penny-pinching bourgeois home, where they took advantage of her dirt and ignorance to starve her. Scores of times, when they had found a comb in the bread or some abominable stew had given them stomach-ache, they had talked of getting rid of her, but on reflection they had decided to put up with her rather than face the difficulty of finding another cook, for even pilferers refused to take service in such a hole, where every lump of sugar was counted.
Zola uses Adèle's slovenliness as a reflection on Madame Josserand, her daughters, and the whole establishment.

Mouret left this environment when he married, feeling as if he had escaped, a feeling driven home two years later when he returned for a visit. The priest and the doctor, living outside this morass, were perhaps the only other ones who saw it for what it was, as together they followed their roles in the births and deaths of the tenants. Toward the end of the novel, Doctor Juillerat launched into a diatribe about the failings of the Empire, convinced a republic would improve the behaviour and outlook of his patients. Zola tells us
And in all this Jacobin frenzy one heard, as it were, the inexorable death knell of a whole class, the collapse and putrefaction of the bourgeoisie, whose rotten props were cracking beneath them. Then, getting out of his depth again, he spoke of the barbarous age and foretold an era of universal bliss.

Unfortunately for Zola, universal bliss did not arrive, but fortunately for us, that failure gave us this great series of books.

Aug 8, 2016, 6:41pm Top

Great review of Pot Luck, Emile Zola

Aug 9, 2016, 5:34am Top

>74 SassyLassy: Zola wrote of the destruction of parts of Paris to make way for Hauptmann's beautiful boulevards
I think your autocorrect must have been programmed by a fan of German literature :-)

Every time I read one of your reviews, I think I really ought to go back and re-read Zola. Then something else always gets in the way. I really should try to get to it.

Aug 9, 2016, 9:25am Top

>76 thorold: Thanks for that (blushing). You would think a simple equation like Haus and houses would work in my mind for this person, but obviously not. I have no idea where my mind was. Corrected now.
What were your favourites if you were to reread a couple?

>75 baswood: Thanks bas. When you reach the nineteenth century, I think you would enjoy Zola. I hope that's not for a long time though, as I really like your mid teens centuries' worlds.

Aug 9, 2016, 10:35am Top

>77 SassyLassy: Hmm. Not sure, maybe the spectacular ones, especially La Terre and La Bête Humaine. And Le ventre de Paris, which more-or-less defeated my ability to read French when I last tried it. I don't have as much desire to go back to the slow, steamy ones like La conquête de Plassans and La faute de l'Abbé Mouret. And there are a few I never did read the first time around. But if I once start, I'm afraid I'll end up like you, reading the lot!

Aug 9, 2016, 10:45am Top

>74 SassyLassy: I couldn't put Pot Luck down when I read it, even though it wasn't one of my favorite Zolas.

Aug 10, 2016, 10:00am Top

>79 rebeccanyc: I had the same reaction. That sense of an impending train wreck, but not knowing quite how it will happen, certainly kept me going, as did the story of Adèle at the end. I reread your review of each book after posting each of mine. I'm so glad you got me going on this kick.

>78 thorold: The first three you mention are still in my future so I'll be looking forward to them. I haven't read La faute de l'Abbé Mouret as there is no recent translation into English, but as I go along and get more familiar with the characters, I am contemplating trying it in French for a midwinter project. I would like to know what sent him to Plassans.

Aug 10, 2016, 10:22am Top

This next book was definitely a case of right book, right time. On another day I would probably have ignored it altogether. There I was, away for the day and in a real bookstore, and something convinced me to buy this book, perhaps the reference to Chernobyl. I came home and read it that evening.

26. Baba Dunja's Last Love by Alina Bronsky translated from the German by Tim Mohr
first published as Baba Dunjas letzte Liebe in 2015
read July 4, 2016

Baba Dunja is an elderly Ukrainian woman forced out of her village after "the reactor happened". However, for practical reasons she made the decision to return to her home in Tschernowo. The closest town outside the death zone had places available,
... but the gray five story buildings from the Krushchev era have leaky pipes and thin moldy walls. Instead of gardens there are courtyards with a rusty swing, the remains of an old slide, and a row of never-emptied garbage barrels. ... I would have to have rented and my pension would only have been enough to cover living with strangers as a lodger. And the room would have been tiny.

In Tschernowo she had her cottage and garden for growing fruit and vegetables. Little by little others moved back. There was no electricity, no functioning phone lines, no services, but somehow a loose community developed again. The government tolerated them, but no one believed it would come to their aid if help was required.

No one visited the village except biologists and a specialized health team. Naturally no children lived there, so when a man appeared with his healthy young daughter one day, looking for a place to live, the residents wondered. Baba Dunja, who had the gift of seeing the dead, was told by her deceased husband the reason for their appearance.

The old woman decided the child had to leave the village as soon as possible, before she became ill. This was where the plot took an unexpected turn.

Baba Dunja's Last Love is somewhat reminiscent of The Summer Book, with its strong grandmother. Baba reflects on her life, her children, and her own granddaughter safe in Germany, the granddaughter who can never visit. While both these grandmothers were reconciled to approaching death, finding this gave them each a certain freedom, the Russian born Bronsky's tale is set in Ukraine, not Finland, and so her Baba has a different outlook on life and authority, at once humorous and realistic.

My appetite for reading was restored.

Aug 10, 2016, 11:58am Top

It's wonderful when something unexpected falls into your hands Sassy. You could have got me with a BB there. The cover might have put me off on that one!

Aug 10, 2016, 12:22pm Top

>81 SassyLassy: I didn't know about that one. Bronsky's obviously got a thing about grandmothers! I had mixed feelings about Die schärfsten Gerichte der tatarischen Küche when I read it a couple of years ago (funny, but very unpleasant), I'm not sure if I would have felt up to meeting another of her grannies.

Aug 11, 2016, 3:46am Top

>81 SassyLassy: BB here too. Sounds great.

Aug 11, 2016, 4:02pm Top

>82 Caroline_McElwee: I certainly struggled with the idea of that cover, but so far with only one exception, I have never been disappointed in Europa publishers. That person does not look like any Baba I know, but, being kind, perhaps they were trying to avoid stereotypes!

>83 thorold: The reviews on the back for The Hottest Dishes of the Tartar Cuisine certainly made it look as you describe it. Maybe I can find it at the library.

>84 AlisonY: Always good to pay these things back.

Aug 18, 2016, 8:22am Top

Great review of Baba Dunja's Last Love, Sassy. I enjoyed Broken Glass Park, her earlier(?) novel.

Ouch, that cover...

Aug 18, 2016, 1:45pm Top

I loved both The Moonstone and The Woman in White. Can't think why I haven't been on a Wilkie binge!!!

Aug 22, 2016, 11:41am Top

I always enjoy your reviews and pictures, Sassy. Trollope is a favorite. I'm currently reading Phineas Finn, second in the Pallisers series. You've reminded me to get back to Wilkie Collins. I have only read The Woman in White, but have The Moonstone on my kindle. There are so many books I want to get to. I sometimes wish I read faster.

Aug 26, 2016, 11:04am Top

>86 kidzdoc: That encourages me to look for more by her. With any luck, the publisher won't have a series of similar covers!

>87 sibyx: He always seems to cure any malaise, so I ration him, but then again, there is enough to keep me going for sometime. Binge away.

>88 NanaCC: Thanks Nana. You and rebecca among others convinced me finally to give Trollope a try.

Edited: Aug 27, 2016, 6:05pm Top

Nonfiction, but still dealing with the nineteenth century:

27. The Opium War by Julia Lovell
first published 2011
finished reading July 7, 2016

If you learned your history in one of the many countries that were red on the old school maps, you probably learned that Great Britain, and by extension the British Empire, gloriously fought two "Opium Wars" with China to open up the Middle Kingdom to the West and all the benefits of commerce, since for some incomprehensible reason the Emperor of that backward fossilized country wanted to keep foreigners contained to one port, restrict their trade, and refuse to grant them extraterritoriality in legal matters. How unreasonable was the implied imperial message.

Julia Lovell, a professor of Chinese history at the University of London, has examined the conflicts from both sides and come up with a superb account and analysis not only of the first Opium War, but also its treatment by the Chinese up to the present, as a tool in the official narrative of the country's history.

First up is a brief discussion of the opium trade and how its details were sanitized for home consumption. The East India Company had a monopoly on opium production in India, developing a pure and reliable supply. Opium had been illegal in China since 1729. As Lovell puts it, the East India Company
only had to look after the opium as far as Government House in Calcutta, letting private British and Indian, and then Chinese sellers handle the dirty business of getting it to the Chinese coast, and inland.

She quotes a British text from 1839,
'the Honourable Company have derived for years an immense revenue and through them the British Government and nation have also reaped an incalculable amount of political and financial advantage. The turn of the balance of trade between Great Britain and China in favour of the former has ... contributed directly to support the vast fabric of British dominion in the East and benefit{ed} the nation to an extent of £6 million yearly without impoverishing India'

Obviously there was much profit in the trade for the British government and the private traders, but what of the Chinese view? Initially they were too busy with domestic turmoil and defending their land borders against encroachment to worry about these "red headed Europeans". However, by 1839, the practice of opium smoking was so pervasive, and the drain of silver to pay for it so extensive, that the Emperor, Daoguang, sent Lin Zebu to Guangdong to halt the import and smuggling of opium completely, on pain of execution for anyone involved. Lin went so far as to write to Queen Victoria herself, asking her to terminate the production of opium in her lands.

Charles Eliot, Superintendent of the China trade for Britain, was put in the awkward position of defending British lives and property, even though some of that property was a banned substance, against the Chinese government's legitimate campaign against smugglers and their products.

Lin forced Eliot's hand by blockading the European warehouses and living quarters in Guangzhou (Canton), the only place foreigners were allowed to live and trade. This had the side effect of also blocking legal trade as well. Eliot then handed over 20, 283 chests of British owned opium, telling the horrified British traders that the Crown would make up their £2 million loss. He then asked the British government to intervene militarily for "the public interests and character of the British nation". For his part, Lin had the opium destroyed.

Lovell succinctly sums up the opposing sides:
British merchants wanted to sell their goods (and especially their contraband narcotics) legally and freely all the way along the eastern coast; the Qing imperial government wanted to confine trade to Canton and ban opium. The British wanted extraterritorial powers over their subjects; the Qing wanted to maintain judicial authority over crimes committed within their borders. In short, the British wanted everything in China to be exactly as they liked. While the Qing state, not surprisingly, disagreed.

This conflict of interest was in due course rationalized by Britain's mercantile war party into honourable justification for international armed conflict.

She details the progress of the British fleet up the coast and along the Yangtze, destroying fort after fort until they reached Nanjing, where in 1842 a treaty was finally signed, giving the British a £21 million indemnity, access to five trading ports where they could live, and abolition of the old Hong monopoly. No official mention was made of opium.

The details of the treaty may have been learned in school. What is more fascinating is Lovell's discussion of the manoeuvres on the Chinese side. The Emperor's delegates rightly feared the repercussions of failure in their dealings with the British. Internal exile or death were strong probabilities. Lack of knowledge of the outside world hampered their efforts, and explaining the delays to the Emperor led to often fanciful dispatches, as did reporting on military skirmishes, which always had to be won by the Chinese. When their districts fell, the local populations often turned on the mostly Manchu Bannermen sent to protect them. Suicide was widespread in the face of the advancing forces as no one wanted to fall into British hands.

Lovell finishes with a look at how this period has been used by the Chinese and the British for propaganda. She explores the fears of Chinese engendered by Victorian tabloids, later epitomized by fictional characters like Fu Manchu, and present right down to today in some business circles and publications. On the Chinese side, she shows how it has been used as the starting point and continuing locus for anti-imperial rhetoric from the 1920s onward, even while successive regimes were collecting significant revenues from its illegal opium trade.

Antiwestern rhetoric declined after the death of Mao, and with it the focus on the Opium War. However, after Tiananmen Square in 1989, Lovell says the Chinese government needed to deflect attention from its actions, and used the coincidence of the 150th anniversary of Charles Eliot's negotiations to review the Opium Was in histories, calling it
...a concerted plot to 'enslave our people, steal our wealth and turn a great nation that had been independent for thousands of years into a semi-feudal semi-colony'.

Museums and monuments appeared, documentaries were made. In 1990 the Patriotic Education campaign was started, although recently it has met with mixed results, as the Internet generation is more inclined to look to the west, while the CCP is still inclined to reject what it considers western attempts at domination through such means as Climate Change summits.

This was an engrossing book. I hope Lovell follows it with one on the second Opium War, which she deems an extension of the first, describing it as
a world war, pitting Britain, France, and at times the United States and Russia against the Chinese empire -- that was provoked (in contravention of international law) by a young British alpha male, exploited by a cantankerous megalomaniac and waged by a melancholy plenipotentiary who thought it 'wretched'.

edited for correction

Aug 26, 2016, 4:10pm Top

>90 SassyLassy: Sounds fascinating! Thank you for the review.

Aug 27, 2016, 3:06am Top

Very good review of Julia Lovell book on The Opium War, which essentially marked the beginning of ever increasing contact with the Chinese. Unfortunately, as reflected in your review, the Opium War was a very negative ouverture to that relationship, and the Chinese have mentally never recovered from it. In fact, the so called forceful "opening-up" of China would result in several other bloody events during the Nineteenth Century. Chinese resentfulness is still so fierce and fresh, because in the Chinese historical consciousness "1840 is like the day before yesterday".

>>" the European warehouses and living quarters in Guangdong (Canton)", that should be Guangzhou. Guangdong is the name of the province, while Guangzhou is the name of the city, known to foreigners as Canton.

If you are up to it, you might want to read An insular possession by the British-Chinese (Hong Kong) author Timothy Mo.

I left Beijing in July, and am in the process of relocating to Guangzhou (Canton). I was down there on a visit for two weeks, earlier this month, and visited the site of "the European warehouses and living quarters" there on the so called Shameen Island. The latter half of this month, I am residing in my apartment in Nanning (Guangxi Province), and start working in Guangzhou in September.

Aug 27, 2016, 3:42am Top

The Opium War a fascinating subject, after reading your review I realised how little I knew about it.

Aug 27, 2016, 8:43am Top

Great review of The Opium War, Sassy! I have it, and have been meaning to get to it for awhile.

I've added An Insular Possession to my wish list.

Edited: Aug 27, 2016, 6:31pm Top

>92 edwinbcn: Thanks and thanks for the correction. Good to see you back here. I had the feeling on proofreading that something wasn't right, but couldn't place it. This is a book I've wanted to read since it came out, but also one where it never seemed the right time until now.
Lovell also discussed the link between the missionaries and the opium dealers, the traders using the missionaries' linguistic skills and the missionaries using the traders' transport, and the resulting backlash against the missionaries in some of those "bloody events"
you reference.
Lovell mentions James Hevia (English Lessons: The Pedagogy of Imperialism in Nineteenth Century China) and John Wong (Deadly Dreams; Opium, Imperialism and the Arrow War 1852-8) as writing excellent accounts of the "Second" Opium War. Have you read either of them?

You will certainly find Guangzhou a change from Beijing. Will you have to fine tune your ear?

I read An Insular Possession when it came out, and thought it was excellent. Maybe it's time for a reread, so thanks for mentioning it.

Looking forward to seeing what you have been reading.

>91 FlorenceArt: It was a fascinating book and could be an excellent starter for all kinds of fiction.

>94 kidzdoc: as mentioned above, I did put off reading it, but once you plunge in it is really interesting.

>93 baswood: But you grew up in the centre of those red countries! I must say, that any classes I had about it in school were deadly boring.

>92 edwinbcn: Just looked at some pictures of the island from the China Travel Guide website and found this old map from the late 1850s and a photo from 1842

Aug 29, 2016, 3:13pm Top

That map is fascinating. It looks so geometric and organized, with even a football ground and tennis courts.

Aug 30, 2016, 11:45am Top

The opium War sounds fascinating.

Sep 1, 2016, 4:57pm Top

>96 FlorenceArt: I'm a huge map fan. In this particular one, I love the idea of the mapmaker and imperialists trying to impose such order in an a world completely alien to them.

>97 rebeccanyc: It was, and as I said, I really hope she follows it up with a the second war. Luckily there are other books by her to read in the meantime.

Sep 1, 2016, 5:46pm Top

Margaret Oliphant is someone I've always wanted to read, but her books were mostly out of print for many years, or impossible to find before the internet. It wasn't a constant quest, more hit and miss in nature, so when I stumbled across this Oxford reissue, I ordered it.

By the way, the Touchstone name of Margaret Oliphant Wilson Oliphant is correct. Oliphant's family name was Wilson, her middle name was Oliphant, after her mother's family, and then Margaret Oliphant Wilson married Frank Oliphant, her cousin.

28. Hester by Margaret Oliphant
first published in three volumes in 1883, published slightly revised in 1884, the text used here
finished reading July 17, 2016

Hester has not one, but two strong-minded and independent women. Catherine Vernon, sixty-five years old when we first meet her, was the head of a small bank in the Home Counties, a role she had come to years earlier when she saved it from the mismanagement of her cousin, John Vernon. Her position meant she was a person of influence, worthy of respect, in her rural community of Redborough. Her wealth gave her a very comfortable life, but she also made sure to provide for a varied assortment of relatives, whom she housed down the road in a group of apartments know as the Vernonry. Catherine was unmarried, but her cousin Edward lived with her, a young man whom everyone viewed as her successor.

Catherine's pleasant life seemed to be on track to run its natural course, when into her world came fourteen year old Hester. Hester was the daughter of that cousin John Vernon from long ago; the John Vernon whom Catherine had been going to marry when he left her for Hester's mother, now widowed.

Hester and her mother came back from France and moved into the Vernonry with the other poor relations. While these relations constantly tried to curry favour with Catherine and get her attention, while infighting amongst themselves, Hester was too proud to play that game. She knew nothing of the story of her father, the bank, and Catherine Vernon. Over the next few years, Hester on her side grew toward maturity. Catherine, in her grand house, turned over more and more of the bank's management to young Edward.

It is in Hester's growing awareness of the world that Margaret Oliphant examines some of the big questions of the Victorian period. The Vernon Bank operated in the traditional ways of receiving deposits and lending money based on collateral. As a rural bank, it had been largely immune to the speculation in shares gripping the large financial centres. However, fever spreads and by 1860 or so, the period of the novel, there were those in Redborough who had been caught up in the contagion. Published in 1883, one of the questions raised by the book was the nature of shares. Was it a form of gambling, and so something immoral, or was it an investment in industry for the good of all? Coincidentally, this same preoccupation with speculation in that era turned up in two other books I've read recently: Trollope's The Way We Live Now from 1875, and Zola's L'Argent which would be published in 1891.

Another concern Oliphant raises is the role of educated unmarried women in society. Hester was an intelligent young woman of good family, but her reduced circumstances made her prospects for a good marriage dim. Should she accept a "good" proposal, even if it meant little to her? Less conventionally, if she should decide not to marry, what avenues were open to her? Catherine Vernon had made a career for herself, but Hester did not have the financial resources to follow in her footsteps.

There is a tension between Catherine and Hester throughout the novel, one that involves not only the normal intergenerational divide, but almost a competition, for Hester is the young Catherine without her prospects. Catherine had the benefit of worldly success, but the fatal flaw of self deception around the reasons for that success. Hester was far more introspective, and puzzled over how to succeed.

Hester has an ambivalent ending, albeit one which satisfies the reader, for to suddenly wrap up the ambiguities of the characters and plot would ring false. After all, this is a novel where in one of the most significant conversations Hester had, she was told
...this world is a very strange place. Right and wrong, are like black and white; they are distinct and easy. The things that baffle us are those that perhaps are not quite right, but certainly not wrong.

Sep 3, 2016, 4:59pm Top

Read for Reading Globally's 3rd quarter: Soviet and Post Soviet Writers

29. The Queue by Vladimir Sorokin translated from the Russian by Sally Laird
first published as Ochered' in Russian in Paris in 1985
finished reading July 21, 2016

If you are one of those people who gets upset when your computer starts up too slowly for you, then the idea of a queue will seem totally preposterous. Yet in many parts of the world, they are an established part of daily routine. So it was in Soviet Russia, where queues as the translator says "...acquired such potency as a symbol" and reached unimaginable lengths.

Vladimir Sorokin's queue is in Brezhnev's Moscow. There is no narration of plot. The reader picks up what is going on through snatches of dialogue, heard as if actually standing in the queue; to call it standing in line would confer too much structure on this entity.

As snippets are heard from here and there, characters start to emerge. There is the young boy darting in and out, waiting for his mother to finish waiting, the old women, students. It becomes obvious no one is really sure what is being sold way up at the front, but that contributes a great deal of enjoyable speculation to help pass the time. Places are held for others, people drop in and out as they complete their errands, vendors of tea and kvass have stalls along the way.

It becomes obvious the front of the line wouldn't be reached today. Numbers are assigned, people bed down for the night as best they can; there will be roll call early in the morning and to miss it is to lose your spot. Two things unite the crowd: its communal antipathy to Georgians whom everyone believes will somehow manage to scoop up everything, and the insistence that newcomers go to the end of the line.

In his Afterward written after the collapse of the Soviet Union, Sorokin says An era can be judged by street conversations, giving an example from the Brezhnev era:

"Look, there's a line".
"What're they giving out?"
"Just get on it, then we'll find out".
"How much should I get?"
"As much as they'll give you."
(trans Jamey Gambrell)

He goes on to say that queues have now been replaced by crowds, which have a completely different mentality and rules. The communal, the shared ritual, has been lost. Should anyone need to go back for a quick fix though, Sorokin's novel is the way.

Sep 4, 2016, 11:31am Top

I found The Queue fascinating for the depiction of the queue phenomenon and its experimental style, but otherwise it didn't grab me.

Sep 4, 2016, 12:06pm Top

Enjoyed your excellent review of Hester

Sep 5, 2016, 5:27pm Top

>101 rebeccanyc: That was my reaction exactly, but I think I will give him another try down the road, as I think this was a first novel.

>102 baswood: Thanks. I will be looking for more of her books.

Well here I am seven reviews behind. If I finish my current book today it will be eight. Tomorrow I head out for two weeks and a bit without a computer, so I will be really far behind when I return. I will add to my TBR pile along the way and come back ready for winter reading. I have a list with lots of LT BBs to take along, and then there is always the joy of discovery, actually discoveries.

Who needs a computer here?

Sep 5, 2016, 6:38pm Top

Sep 7, 2016, 12:29am Top

I don't think it is a photo, it is probably an engraving...

Sep 7, 2016, 12:30am Top

I am very interested in Margaret Oliphant and am on the lookout for a copy of Hester}, which will interest me more after reading your review, here.

Sep 19, 2016, 2:48am Top

Enjoy your vacation, Sassy! Where is that?

Sep 23, 2016, 11:49am Top

>104 rebeccanyc: Ice Trilogy noted... thanks for the suggestion. I just checked my TBR, thinking I had it, but it doesn't seem to be the case. I will get a copy.

>106 edwinbcn: I think you will like Margaret Oliphant.

>107 kidzdoc: That is Lunenburg NS. Many wooden ships were built there, including the Bluenose on the back of the Canadian dime. It also is a fishing community. Today many very expensive sailing ships are to be found there, but fishing still continues, as does specialty boat building. Lunenburg is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and a National Historic Site of Canada, but is not fossilized at all, having a very active working harbour and related industries. There are two new bookstores since my last visit there! I somehow managed to pick up books in both.

The original Bluenose (there is now a replica). Photo from Knickle Gallery

Sep 28, 2016, 4:04am Top

Sep 29, 2016, 4:28pm Top

Finally finishing off July. This is one way for me to keep summer going!

30. Au Bonheur des Dames by Emile Zola translated from the French by Robin Buss (2001)
first published 1883
finished reading July 30, 2016

Let me begin this review by saying that I loathe shopping. With the exception of bookstores and plant nurseries, I feel like a trapped animal in a shop, overwhelmed by the feeling that I need to bolt from whatever array of discretionary goods surrounds me. On one level such a bias makes a book such as Au Bonheur des Dames a mild form of torture delivered as some sort of misguided immersion therapy. However, at the same time, I am intrigued by why people shop as an activity in itself, why they spends hours wandering in what appears to be an aimless manner, why they redo houses every two or three years, why they have closets with clothes that have never been worn, why they are obsessed by fashion rather than style.

Au Bonheur des Dames is Zola's exploration of recreational shopping and unnecessary consumption. Octave Mouret, the young man who came to Paris to succeed in Pot Luck, is now in a position to expand his ladies' clothing store. Mouret's dream was to build an enormous department store. This was a revolutionary idea at the time. Such a place would assemble all the goods ladies might desire in one spot. No longer would they have to traipse from milliner to glove maker to shoe maker, umbrella maker and endlessly on and on to outfit themselves. They could come to Mouret's establish, meet their friends, eat and do all their shopping at once. Zola based this idea on the Bon Marché, the grand new department store in Paris.

Mouret was aided in his idea by the redevelopment of Paris and the new desire for light and space. The new open boulevards allowed for enormous buildings. The warrens of small specialty shops would disappear; their own fault in Mouret's eyes, for not keeping up with the times. Mouret's new store was so large it was a small town in itself. More than that, it was operated to resemble a huge machine.
... he had fifteen hundred sales assistants, and a thousand other employees of every kind, including forty inspectors and seventy cashiers; the kitchens alone employed thirty-two men; there were ten people in advertising, three hundred and fifty porters in livery, twenty-four permanent fire wardens. In the stables -- regal stables, in the Rue Monsigny opposite the shops -- there were one hundred and forty-five horses, a wealth of carriage teams that were already famous.

Customers were cleverly routed through from department to department, areas ingeniously designed so that the shoppers would be led in a circuitous manner through the store, deliberately distracted by more goods than they had thought possible. Beneath and above the public areas, the machine hummed away. Mouret designed assembly lines for shipping and receiving. Staff ate in company dining rooms. Shop girls lived in the attic in an effort to keep them from the temptations of the street.

Zola gives the reader the worlds of all these people; displaced artisans, shop girls, buyers, customers and many more. Through Mouret, he shows the origin of much of twentieth century marketing: fixed price -- no bargaining, end of season sales, store displays for next season this season, commissions for sales staff. Being Zola though, these are not dry discussions. There are the petty disputes and politics among the staff, the tension between the shop girls and their clients, and over it all, Mouret's developing megalomania. Then there is the developing love story between the worldly Mouret and the young Denise Baudu, just up from the provinces and completely overwhelmed by Paris.

All this is swathed in the sensuousness of tactile things amid the eroticism of objects which Zola describes so well.
The silk department was like a huge love nest hung in white to satisfy the fancy of a woman in love who wished her own snow-white nakedness to compete with it in radiance. All the milky pallors of a loved one's body were there, from the velvet of the back to the fine silk of the thighs and the glowing satin of the breasts. Lengths of velvet were hung between the columns, while silks and satins stood out against this background of creamy white as a drapery of metallic white and china white; and there were also arches of silk poults and Sicilian grosgrains, light foulards and surahs which varied in tone from the heavy white of a Norwegian blonde to the transparent, sun-warmed whiteness of a redhead from Italy or Spain.

This was the first of Zola's books to be translated into English, the very year it was published. Needless to say, there was fairly heavy editing, but this particular translation uses the full French text. Department stores were opening in other large centres; New York, Chicago and London to name a few, so the theme had wide appeal. The book could be read as a standalone, and there was almost no political matter for a Zola novel. While the book could be read on this lighter level, its strength is in its examination of the changes in commerce and what those changes did to the society around them. Most of all, it worked as a strong critique of consumption, while managing to portray that same consumption as necessary to the new economy. Much has changed in the ways and whys of our buying, but that same drive to consume it still there. For that critique alone this book is well worth it.

Sep 30, 2016, 5:08am Top

When I read your excellent review the Galleries Lafayette in Paris immediately sprang to mind.

Oct 3, 2016, 4:45pm Top

>110 SassyLassy: Unusually for Zola, I didn't think The Ladies Paradise was a very good story, but I was fascinated in a horrified way by the descriptions of the goods in the stores.

Edited: Oct 7, 2016, 9:33am Top

>111 baswood: Someday I will get to Paris and see such wonders.

>112 rebeccanyc: I would agree with you about the story part. Zola seemed far too wrapped up in the material part of it to concentrate on the plot. . Fascinated in a horrified way" perfectly describes my reaction too. Reading The Belly of Paris just after this felt somewhat similar, but then I got back to real plot with L'Assommoir which I just finished. Very powerful.

Edited: Oct 7, 2016, 2:12pm Top

This year's Nobel Prize in Literature will be awarded next week, so I thought I might post the odds as of yesterday from Ladbrooke's taken from The Guardian https://www.theguardian.com/books/2016/oct/06/haruki-murakami-named-41-favourite...

4/1 Haruki Murakami Japan
6/1 Adonis Syria
7/1 Philip Roth USA
10/1 Ngugi wa Thiong'o Kenya
14/1 Joyce Carol Oates USA
16/1 Ismail Kadare Albania and Javier Marías Spain
20/1 John Banville Ireland, Antonio Lobo Antunes Portugal, Jon Fosse Norway, Ko Un Korea, Laszló Krasznahorkai Hungary, and César Aira Argentina
50/1 Bob Dylan USA

The Guardian goes on to say that 91% of the time since 2005 the winner has been at 10/1 or less, with the odds decreasing significantly in the last week.

It also suggests that the Bob Dylan odds are perhaps "...like Leicester City - diehard fans dreaming - although we know how that one ended".

My personal favourite would be Ismail Kadare (sorry Bob).

Oct 7, 2016, 10:15am Top

Do you think that the Nobel Prize for Literature will ever be given to an American? In the past there seemed to be prejudice against American writers

Edited: Oct 7, 2016, 2:11pm Top

31. The Pope's Daughter by Dario Fo translated from the Italian by Antony Shugaar
first published as La figlia del papa in 2014
finished reading August 2, 2016

Lucrezia Borgia, a Nobel Prize winning author, a Europa edition; it sounded like perfect summer reading in the record breaking heat. The Pope's Daughter though is not a straightforward read; not a bad thing, just unexpected.

Dario Fo won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1997, yet this is his first novel, published almost two decades later in 2014. The form of literature that engages Fo is the play. All aspects of theatre intrigue him, as he also direct, acts, writes songs, and performs comedy. All this is evident in this novel, as Borgias, Sforzas and Farneses move around in ways that often suggest a master story teller directing characters on a stage. Events happen out of sight, off stage, and the characters react by plotting further. Further reenforcing this sense of theatre is the use of pantomimes in the plot. This makes the writing sound clumsy, which it decidedly isn't, but like a play, it is episodic.
Just like in the kind of theatre that was then in vogue, at this point there is nothing left for us to do but drop the curtain and change the scene: at the Palazzo dei Diamanti, Duke Ercole was deep in discussion with his advisors.

Fo's theatrical eye for detail is everywhere:
And Cesare began the narrative, pushing his place setting aside on the table so that he would have more room to tell the story of his adventures and gesticulate while doing so...

The Nobel citation for Fo's award said, He if anyone merits the epithet of jester in the true meaning of that word. With a blend of laughter and gravity he opens our eyes to abuses and injustices in society and also the wider historical perspective in which they can be placed.

What better setting to present the uses and abuses of power than the Italian Peninsula in the Renaissance period? Here we have Cardinal Rodrigo Borgia, about to be elected Pope Alexander VI, explaining to his four astonished children that he is indeed not their beloved uncle as they had thought, neither is their father their real father, for it is he, the Cardinal, who is.
I am your father, your own true father, the father of you all, and not merely the spiritual father, but your actual carnal father, and I engendered you with your mother, the only real person here.

Asked why he was only revealing this now, Rodrigo gave them a fine lesson summoning up an entire philosophy:
Why, it's as simple as can be, my darlings. In a few days I will be elected to the very tip of the pyramid. A pyramid made up of thousands of men, some more powerful, and some less, and each with his arms raised helping to uphold the construction. Those who support this pyramid must do so by balancing carefully, and if they waver or wobble they are soon crushed or expelled and quickly replaced by someone better suited and more astute. The only one who is never at risk of being squeezed out of the pyramid is the one who stands at the very tip-top, that is, the pope. Only death can remove him from office. And so, neither slander nor calumny, to say nothing of unutterable truths, will be able to touch me. And the same goes for you, who are my children. As I once learned from my professor of geometry, it is a dynamic equilibrium that is the true strength of faith. There are those who say this is blasphemy, but I like it just fine the way it is!

Lucrezia herself emerges as the strong capable woman today's history credits her as. Fo doesn't discount the stories of her relationships with her father and brother, but neither does he dwell on them. He does, however, initially picture her as someone the Borgias had intended as a victim, someone to be used as a pawn in their alliances. As the tale develops and Lucrezia matures, he then skilfully shows her as a woman who has learned her lessons well, well enough to not just survive on her own, but to become a power in her own right.

All this is leavened by sly humour and by Fo's asides. This particular edition has many illustrations with the somewhat puzzling attribution "Illustration drawn and painted by Dario Fo in collaboration with Jessica Borroni and Michela Casiere."

Oct 7, 2016, 2:27pm Top

>115 torontoc: I do wonder about that. It's possible the committee feels Americans have enough awards of their own; it's also possible they don't think that highly of the majority of American writing. Maybe they make that dreadful mistake so many outside North America make, by conflating Canadian and American culture, and think that by awarding it to Alice Munro in 2013, they don't have to give it to an American for a while. Then there is this New Republic article from yesterday https://newrepublic.com/article/137496/will-win-2016-nobel-prize-literature, which suggests that the Nobel Committee favours writers who work for civil rights, and I don't immediately associate any current American writers with that fight, although it does seem to hold true for the Peace Prize winners if we leave out Henry Kissinger.

I can only say that of their past winners (Sinclair Lewis, Pearl Buck, William Faulkner and Ernest Hemingway, that the only one I would whole heartedly support would be Faulkner. John Steinbeck should certainly have been there before Pearl Buck and I would say the same for Philip Roth.

Edited: Oct 9, 2016, 5:26am Top

Enjoyed your review of The Pope's daughter, Dario Fo

A few years ago I read an excellent biography of Lucrezia Borgia by Maria Bellonci published in 1939.

Oct 9, 2016, 5:52am Top

>116 SassyLassy: A novel by Dario Fo, now there's a thing. Slipped right by me for sure. Great review Sassy. Saw a lot of Dario Fo theatre in the 80s and 90s.

Deserved of his Nobel without doubt. He and his wife Franca Rame had such energy and vitality. I see the novel is posthumous, as they both died in 2013.

Oct 11, 2016, 10:40am Top

>118 baswood: Lucrezia has always intrigued me. I remember reading your review. Unfortunately, the only copies I can currently see online, including the reprint, are in Italian and German. Fo's book also mentions the connection with Catarina Sforza de' Medici, from The Tigress of Forli, which I know we both read.

>119 Caroline_McElwee: You sent me on a hunt! The end jacket of the book said Dario Fo is..., so I went no further.
This time, among other things, I found this article on him from The Guardian https://www.theguardian.com/stage/2016/mar/18/dario-fo-at-90-so-farce-so-good, which managed to shed some light on the illustrations. It appears his eyesight is poor, so he sketches the illustrations and artists add the colour.
It seems that Franca Rame died in 1913 (great photo of the two of them in the article), but that Fo is still alive at 90. I envy you seeing such theatre. I will have to see if any of it is available online.

Oct 12, 2016, 8:41am Top

Oops sorry for bumping him off early.

Oct 13, 2016, 8:19am Top

>115 torontoc: I guess this was the year. What do I know (post 117)? I do have a very large Bob Dylan collection, so I can't argue.

>121 Caroline_McElwee: You were certainly ahead of me. I'm sorry to say Fo was a completely new writer to me, although I had heard of some of his plays.

Another piece of good news today:


Oct 13, 2016, 1:07pm Top


Oct 15, 2016, 6:28am Top

>120 SassyLassy: I was having lunch with some Italians yesterday and heard quite by chance that Fo had died on Thursday: https://www.theguardian.com/stage/2016/oct/13/dario-fo-obituary

Oct 15, 2016, 7:54am Top

>124 thorold: it wasn't me, promise. RIP Dario, you had a great time entertaining us, and we laughed.

Oct 19, 2016, 11:12am Top

Still trying to catch up on my own thread. I am now eleven books behind.

32. The House of the Seven Gables by Nathaniel Hawthorne
first published 1851
finished reading August 6, 2016

Nathaniel Hawthorne published The Scarlet Letter in 1850, his first novel that he actually acknowledged. It was a major, if controversial success. Hawthorne followed it almost immediately in 1851 with The House of the Seven Gables. I first read this book when I was about ten, and my major memory of it was that it was "spooky". That may have been influenced by the house itself, which does become a character of a sort, but reading it this time, the house became much more of a metaphor for what Hawthorne felt was wrong with his society.

Making notes for this book, he wrote "To inherit a great fortune. To inherit a great misfortune." In his preface, Hawthorne called his new work a Romance, distinguishing it from a novel by saying the distinction in this particular case "lies in the attempt to connect a by-gone time with the very Present that is flitting away from us." He termed his story a Legend "...from an epoch now gray in the distance, down into our own broad daylight..." He then added a thought many of his New England contemporaries would have agreed with:
that the wrong-doing of one generation lives into the successive ones, and, divesting itself of every temporary advantage, becomes a pure and uncontrollable mischief.
Lastly, he warned the reader about the evil "an avalanche of ill-gotten gold, or real estate..." can wreak "...on the heads of an unfortunate posterity".

Having thus set up the reader for a lesson in morality, Hawthorne delivered, pulling no punches in his scorn for the evil Judge Jaffrey Pyncheon, the current embodiment of the wrong doing of previous generations and the inheritor of their ill gotten wealth. Pyncheon's ancestor, one Colonel Pyncheon, had acquired the land on which he built his seven gabled house by the simple expedient of having its owner, Matthew Maule, executed for witchcraft. On the scaffold, Maule had cursed the Colonel, crying "God will give him blood to drink!"

The Colonel invited the entire town to celebrate the completion of his new house. Much to the horror of the assembled guests, he was found dead at his desk, with blood dribbling from his mouth. Was Maule's curse coming true? His descendants showed no fear, continuing to live in the house. Then several generations later, the head of the family, an elderly bachelor, was found murdered, oddly enough after he had conceived of the idea of righting the original wrong done to the Maule family by returning the property to them. His legal heir was none other than his nephew Jaffrey.

Hawthorne carefully depicts Jaffrey's duplicitous nature; his smiling seemingly easy going ways contrasting sharply with his treatment of those who stood in his way. Among these was his elderly cousin, the spinster Hepzibah and her brother Clifford, a man so mentally and physically deranged after thirty years in prison for murder, that he had been sent home to die. Hepzibah and Clifford lived in wretched poverty in the now decaying gabled house, while Jaffrey had built his own new mansion.

Into this gloomy old house came Phoebe, a distant cousin, fresh from the country, seemingly untainted by any hereditary disposition toward darkness. Setting youth and light against age, decay and darkness, Hawthorne uses Phoebe and the young boarder Holgrave to bring the family into what he saw as a new age, free of unquestioning deference to wealth and power, one where citizens were free to succeed on their own terms in a prosperous independent country.

The ending is perhaps too pat for readers of today, leaving unanswered the question of the transition to that future, in other words the "broad daylight" of his Preface. Nor could Hawthorne have known the interruptions to progress the Civil War would create just one decade later. However, his eye for the details of everyday life, his sly digs at convention, and his mastery of storytelling keep this a worthwhile read.

Oct 21, 2016, 2:21pm Top

Excellent review of The House of the Seven Gables. I read The Scarlet letter for the first time a couple of years ago and was very impressed. Good to know that his other books are worth reading.

Oct 21, 2016, 3:06pm Top

>127 baswood: Thanks bas. It may be a good year for me to reread The Scarlet Letter while I am still concentrating on the nineteenth century. It will also be interesting to see if that American outlook shows as much as it does here, so different from the nineteenth century European view.

Oct 21, 2016, 3:45pm Top

Thanks to Stuck-in-a-Book for this one.

33. Fraülein Schmidt and Mr Anstruther: Being the Letters of an Independent Woman by Elizabeth von Arnim
first published 1907
finished reading August 12, 2016

"Dear Roger, -- This is only to tell you that I love you, supposing that you should have forgotten it by the time you get to London."

So begins the first of seventy-six letters from Rose-Marie Schmidt to Roger Anstruther in just over a year. Elizabeth von Arnim's fictional Rose-Marie is a well read young woman living with her widowed father and stepmother in Jena. Reduced to genteel poverty, the family took in occasional English boarders, bent on improving their German. Roger was the most recent of these.

For reasons he probably could not have explained even to himself, an hour before his departure for England Roger confessed his love to Rose-Marie, a woman to whom until then he had not shown the slightest interest. Overwhelmed, the sheltered Rose-Marie agreed to a secret engagement. Now Roger was on his way home.

Over the course of the next fourteen months, we read of the ups and downs of their relationship, seen entirely through Rose-Marie's eyes, for while Roger does indeed write often, none of his letters are recorded. This seemed to me to be an inspired technique on von Arnim's part, letting the reader get to know Rose-Marie bit by bit as she wrote her letters. Some are funny, some touching, some show the frustration of a small town dweller anxious to learn the ways of the outside world.

The letters' salutations alone tell a story. Roger can be the "Dearest of Living Creatures" one day, not receive an address at all the next when he has not written, and become "Dear Mr Anstruther" as Roger slips back into his English life. Soon enough he is visiting the aptly named English country house Clinches, beautiful and dignified in the mists and subtleties of a November afternoon, a place from where letters do not seem to depart easily. What, she asks, can it be like to live in a thing so big that you do not hear the sounds nor smell the smells of the kitchen?

They discuss books, his Foreign Service exams, the new boarder. Rose-Marie's stepmother died and she and her father were obliged to move to meaner more remote lodgings, where everyday he continued to work on his unpublishable magnum opus on Goethe.

Von Arnim actually spent some time working for a German family, pretending to be an English governess on holiday, in preparation for writing this book and it shows in the details Rose-Marie gives Roger. She has a keen eye and wit, and her descriptions of life in provincial Germany are slyly funny, masking the desperation of the situation.

Anstruther gradually emerges as a weak young man, dominated by his father, ineffectual and indecisive. As Rose-Marie becomes more aware of his character, she is kind, firm and polite in her responses, only occasionally letting her anguish show. Inevitably, however, she makes the final break, reasserting herself as the independent woman of the title.

Elizabeth von Arnim is always a rewarding writer, skilled at revealing what lies beneath the surface of what often appears to be light and frothy repartee. Reading this book over a hundred years after its publication is enough to make me wish for a return to the days when letter writing was a valued art.

Oct 23, 2016, 11:11am Top

Good luck with the catching up! I read Fraülein Schmidt and Mr Anstruther many years ago, and your review has made me want to seek it out again.

Oct 27, 2016, 4:44pm Top

I'm just catching up Sassy. I have been so far behind on everyone's threads. I really enjoy Elizabeth Von Armin. Her writing is lovely and relaxing.

Edited: Oct 27, 2016, 5:54pm Top

>32 SassyLassy: It's a lovely book as I remember (you sent me back to my own comments), but also awful, but as you suggest it suggests (should I hesitate to say) some redemption, though as with The Scarlet Letter via difficult paths, uncontrolled. Enjoyed your comments and perspective/clarity.

Oct 28, 2016, 10:46am Top

>130 wandering_star: I think it is one of those books you can pick up and dip into at will once you have read it, but beware that you don't find yourself reading it completely again! That was my experience when I went back to look at it again to write about it.

>131 NanaCC: Hello Nana. I'm always behind too, as you can see. Elizabeth von Arnim is becoming someone I turn to when I feel in need of some quiet and sanity. As you say, her writing is lovely and relaxing, although she is such a spirited person, and I really enjoy her sense of humour.

>132 tonikat: I went back and found your comments (2013 thread) which made me think of the judge in his chair. I think there was a certain degree of satire there, but I also think Hawthorne may have been warning about the tendency to trust powerful smiling people. I usually have exactly the opposite reaction to them, but that is another story.

Oct 28, 2016, 11:47am Top

This was actually read in the third quarter for Reading Globally's third quarter reading of Soviet and Post Soviet Writers:

34. Generations of Winter by Vassily Aksyonov translated from the Russian by John Glad and Christopher Morris
first published as Moskovskaya Saga in 1992
finished reading August 24, 2016

In the fall of 1925, eight years after the Revolution, Moscow appeared to be returning to a certain sense of normality, at least the veneer was there. The NEP had allowed a partial reversion to private ownership and there were those who believed there would be a return to capitalism. However, beneath the surface, change was coming. The difficulty was that everything was secret, so no one knew which direction to choose. As Karl Radek had said, "The Party can't seem to get out of the habit of working underground."

The Gradov family was one that had survived intact and thought themselves well suited to continue to flourish. The head of the family was one of the best surgeons in Moscow. His wife was a talented pianist from Georgia. His elder son Nikita was a Brigade Commander and his second son Kirill was a theoretical revolutionary. Daughter Nina was a university student who fancied herself a proletarian. The family home was a dacha straight out of nineteenth century Russian literature. However, readers know what the family cannot and so the reader wonders "How could such a family survive unscathed through the whirlwind to come?"

Aksyonov leads the reader slowly into the wreck, perhaps sensing some resistance. Dr Gradov was summoned to a consultation on the health of Mikhail Frunze, the Commissar for Defense. Frunze had devised a plan for military reform. Unfortunately for him, it involved reducing the Army by over half a million men and getting rid of political commissars; not a plan likely to be approved by the new regime. The Party decided on an operation to treat Frunze's ulcer, against the advice of doctors such as Gradov. Frunze died on the operating table. Gradov's dossier grew larger.

So the cataclysm began for the Gradov family and for the country. Collectivization, purges, army reorganization, more purges, show trials and still more purges. On and on it went, a revolving door of favour:
In the textbooks of Soviet history schoolchildren, under the supervision of their teachers, smeared ink thickly over the names and pictures of the old heroes, now become enemies. The next year the textbooks were handed down to younger students, and no one remembered the names that had vanished into the inky night. No shortage of heroes was felt, though. Life went on giving birth to a new hero almost every week.

Nikita and Kirill wound up in different camps for different reasons. The doctor and his wife struggled on. Her Georgian connections proved both useful and problematic.

Aksyonov relieves the oppression with a device he calls Intermissions. In these, plants and animals are revealed as reincarnations of characters from the Russian past. The family dog emerges as Prince Andrei. A ficus and geranium argue heatedly. Other Intermissions quote snippets from the western press, suggesting that all is not transparent in its reporting either.

From Time magazine July 7, 1941
The Finns are unhappy that Russian phosphorus rounds incinerated the forest around Khanko Lake, in which they loved to relax in the summer...

The reality is never far off though, as Aksyonov details his characters' lives in the camps and prisons, including a chilling description of the latest in execution chambers, circa 1938. Characters from history such as Frunze appear often.

Years of horror take the reader to October 1941, when desperate times called for truly desperate measures. General Zhukov went before Molotov, Kaganovich, Beria, Voroshilov, Krushchev and others to convince them that in order to stop the German advance, the army would need among other things, to
...sharply and immediately increase the complement of upper- and middle-level officer cadres. I request that this be reported to Comrade Stalin immediately.

The higher-ups immediately understood what Zhukov had in mind and suddenly found themselves engrossed in their folders and documents...

For what Zhukov had in mind was the release of such officers from their scattered camps, those at least for whom there were still records.

War and Jail make up Volume II of this novel. Aksyonov has used a quote from War and Peace, The human mind cannot grasp the absolute continuity of motion, as an epigraph for this second half of the novel, in which there is no rest until the book ends with the end of WWII. The novel's ending leaves scope for a sequel, but that did not happen.

Blurbs on this edition almost all referenced War and Peace as a comparator for this novel, but I think Dr Zhivago seems more apt. There is a sense of futility and beaten down acceptance here which is absent in Tolstoy. Aksyonov's mother was Yevgenia Ginzburg. She and his father Pavel Akysonov were both sent to camps for Trotskyite connections when Vassily was only five. He eventually wound up in an orphanage as a child of "enemies of the people" before eventually being reunited with his parents. This gave his writing an experience and desperation Tolstoy could not have known.

Aksyonov himself was stripped of his Soviet citizenship in 1980 after he left for the US. He regained it in the Gorbachev era. He seems to have official sanction for now, with a Russian literary award in 1994, and the production of a Russian TV miniseries of Generations of Winter in 2004. Aksyonov died in Moscow in 2009.

Oct 28, 2016, 2:14pm Top

Enjoyed your excellent review of Generations of Winter

Edited: Oct 29, 2016, 5:49am Top

>134 SassyLassy: a fascinating review. I didn't know of this book.

>133 SassyLassy: - I had to seek it out too. You've made me go back to read on the Judge sitting there and of course am reminded of the particular structure of the book now and that whole chapter on the Judge sitting, thanks for that as I had forgotten. I suppose my reading was more focussed on the natural story of the people and played out emotions/psychology, and of course the supernatural in that down generations. So it is fascinating to see what you have so clearly seen. Reading Kathleen Raine on Blake, she refers to Sallust, who identified four kinds of meaning in myth, and on our readings we've had, or written about, a slightly different slant. Fascinating and a mark of its richness.
Edit - I've heard that in Siberia smiling may be seen as a sign of stupidity.

Oct 30, 2016, 12:17pm Top

I too enjoyed your review. I have Generations of Winter on my TBR.

Oct 30, 2016, 1:56pm Top

So many reviews to catch up on - I've enjoyed them all. Generations of Winter sounds a fantastic read - one for the list. Also noting the Elizabeth von Arnim book - she was new to me this year, but I look forward to reading more of her work. Very subtly clever.

Nov 1, 2016, 12:01am Top

Excellent review of Fraülein Schmidt and Mr Anstruther. I have a copy on the shelf that has been waiting too long. Must get to it soon because I really enjoy Elizabeth von Arnim's writing.

Interesting to read your review of Nathaniel Hawthorne. I haven't read a thing by him and all I know about him is that we share the same birthday (not year, of course). It may be time to read one of his books.

Nov 1, 2016, 4:06pm Top

>137 rebeccanyc: With your knowledge of 20th century Soviet Union I think you would get through this in no time and enjoy the characterizations of some of the real life characters like Beria. It looks long, but doesn't read long, if that makes any sense.

>138 AlisonY: Very subtly clever That's about the best description of her writing I've seen.
Generations of Winter is a great book for some time at home, the kind of book you settle in with.

>139 VivienneR: I try to space out Elizabeth von Arnim as I don't want to get to the end of them, but if your book has been on the shelf too long, then it's time.

I don't think many people are reading Hawthorne now, with the possible exception of The Scarlet Letter. James Fenimore Cooper is another American writer in that category too. Unfortunate.

Nov 11, 2016, 11:45am Top

Toronto subway billboard October 11, 1978 from The Globe and Mail

Nov 11, 2016, 3:10pm Top

Dear Leonard, another icon gone, but he's left us plenty to remind us of him.

Nov 13, 2016, 7:27pm Top

August's Zola... August seems so long ago.

35. The Belly of Paris by Emile Zola translated from the French by Brian Nelson
first published as Le ventre de Paris in serial form in L'Etat from 12 January to 17 March 1873
finished reading August 29, 2016

The Belly of Paris may not be closely related in plot to The Ladies' Paradise, but like it, it focusses on Zola's examination of Haussmann's radical urban renewal of Paris, a process which necessarily swept away many old neighbourhoods and communities.

The people who live through such changes, no matter how drastic, do adapt if they want to remain. For them, change builds in increments. Zola chose to emphasize the impact of the change by creating as a main character someone who had been away from Paris for some time, and so someone who would be struck immediately by the effect.

Florent was more than just a returned traveller though. He was an escaped political prisoner from Devil's Island off the coast of French Guiana. Florent desperately needed to avoid detection, a difficult task in the now unfamiliar streets of his old neighbourhood, where the huge covered markets of Les Halles had been built by Victor Baltard in his absence. Butter, cheese, fish, vegetables, fruit, and flowers: each had its own market, while further on were spaces for meat, tripe, poultry and game. Zola seems intoxicated with the sights, smells and sounds of the place, the characters who inhabited it, and most of all the food.
Lettuces, endives, chicory, open and with rich soil still clinging to their roots, exposed their swelling hearts; bunches of spinach, sorrel and artichokes, piles of peas and beans, mounds of cos lettuces, tied up with straw, sounded every note in the scale of greens, from the lacquered green of the pods to the coarse green of the leaves; a continuous scale of rising and falling notes that died away in the mixed tones of the tufts of celery and bundles of leeks. But the highest notes, at the very top of the scale, came from the bright carrots and snowy turnips, scattered in tremendous quantities throughout the markets, which they lit up with their medley of colours.

Seen through the eyes of the starving Florent, it was overwhelming.

Chronologically, this is the third of Zola's Rougon-Macquart cycle, a series he had anticipated being about ten novels long, but which would stretch to some twenty novels. He is still introducing characters here who will be crucial in later books, and still defining the differences between the legitimate Rougon line and the illegitimate Macquart line. As such, it is an important book in the cycle, but the actual narrative plot is slim.

Florent finds refuge with his younger brother Quenu, now married to Lisa Macquart from Plassans. The couple had opened a fine charcuterie opposite the markets of Les Halles, and were prospering quietly. Prosperity among the bourgeoisie induces envy in its ranks though, along with its companions, spiteful gossip and mutual constant surveillance.

Introduced to the neighbours as Lisa's cousin, Florent uneasily integrated into the family. However, after a few months, sick of a life that "... had become so calm and regular that he hardly felt he was alive at all...", he started engaging in underground political action once more, "... as though driven by fate".

He also found himself entangled with the fishwife Louise Méhudin, La Belle Normande, Lisa's longtime rival. The outcome is fairly predictable. Bourgeois complacency triumphs, thanks to the very networks that make it so awful. In the words of the protagonist of a later novel, Claude Lantier, words which end this novel: "Respectable people... What bastards!"


This 2007 translation by Brian Nelson and published by OUP is called "the first English translation of Le Ventre de Paris for fifty years, adding back much that had been edited out by earlier translators. Nelson has translated several others of Zola's novels and his work flows easily.

It was translated again in 2009 for Modern Library by Mark Kurlansky, the author of Cod and Salt, touted as "the celebrated historian and food writer." I do like Kurlansky's books, but although I have not seen this translation, the idea of him as a translator seems odd.

Nov 13, 2016, 7:40pm Top

Today is Robert Louis Stevenson day, a day to celebrate one of my very favourite authors, someone whom I reread again and again. While he is most famous for the big three: Treasure Island, Kidnapped and The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde, he wrote so much more. He was a master storyteller for travel writing, and also collected folk tales.

Here is an appreciation of him from The Atlantic by Margot Livesey:


Nov 15, 2016, 2:33pm Top

I'm a big fan of The Master Of Ballantrae. Sorry I missed the day.

Nov 15, 2016, 4:08pm Top

Over in the Viragos Group, the month of August is designated as AVAA, or All Viragos All August. While I have never managed that, I did read one earlier this month, and with two days left in the month decided I had time for another.

36. Poor Caroline by Winifred Holtby
first published 1931
finished reading August 31, 2016

Back in the London of the 1920s, Caroline Denton-Smyth had an idea. Cinema was in its infancy, its direction was unsure, but the possibility of it being used in questionable ways was certainly there. Caroline decided she would form the Christian Cinema Company. Its object was to "...combine profit with pioneering and produce only absolutely one hundred per cent guaranteed pure films - talkies and all - made in Britain. You know. The sort the curate could take his mother to."

Caroline knew nothing about the pioneering science of films and very little more about profit, but she was of the sort for whom such limitations were to be dismissed as mere quibbles. Her task was to find a board of directors.

Winifred Holtby starts her novel with an Opening Chorus, in which Caroline's second cousins have just returned from her funeral, a great excuse for a shopping and theatre expedition to London. Their description of Caroline as a woman who "...would cadge, borrow or steal from anyone in the world that she could get hold of" is brutal, and immediately gives the reader a decidedly less than favourable impression.

Holtby then devotes a chapter to each board member in turn. Each was in it for their own ulterior motives. None, with the possible exception of the young assistant Anglican priest, actually believed in the cause. While some of the characters' descriptions seem somewhat of a cliché, Holtby writes of them so well that this can be forgiven, for her sly wit rounds them out.
Hugh Angus MacAfee, so far as he was made at all, was a self-made man. The great disadvantage in making oneself lies in the difficulty of getting both sides to match. Hugh's development was distressingly one-sided. ...

To do him justice, he was not dissatisfied with his own production. Disapproval was his favourite hobby, but he rarely applied it to himself.

As each member's story is told, we see not only their motives, but also their thoughts on Caroline and her company. While each person offers a different perspective, they are all in agreement with one sentiment, for each chapter ends with the refrain "Poor Caroline!"

Was she a pitiable deluded old spinster in her lonely bedsit, a conniving swindler, a motivated crusader? Did her board members get what they wanted or wind up getting their just deserts? There are hints in the last chapter, the Final Chorus, recounting the day of the funeral, but wisely Holtby lets the reader decide.

An entertaining read, but very much of its time and place.

Nov 24, 2016, 11:23am Top

37. The Story of an African Farm by Olive Schreiner
first published in 1883 under the pseudonym Ralph Iron
finished reading September 7, 2016

Imagine growing up in isolation: no school, no radio or television let alone electronic devices, few neighbours and those few distant. If you were lucky, there would be books, but none selected with you in mind. Hard as it is to picture such an existence now, it was not an uncommon situation for children whose parents had colonized the vast prairies of Canada, Australia and South Africa one hundred and fifty years ago. What is unusual, is that there was so little contemporary writing about it.

Olive Schreiner grew up in such a world in the Cape Colony, part of what is now South Africa. While she had no great affection for her fellow white South Africans, calling them "... a whole nation of lower middle class philistines, without... intellect or muscular labourers to save them", she did have sympathy for the children who had to grow up in such an environment.

The Story of an African Farm has three such children, brought together by circumstance. Lyndall was an orphan sent to live with her uncle. She had been provided for financially and would be able to go away to school when the time came. Em was also an orphan, daughter of the uncle to whom Lyndall had been sent, a man who had since died. This left the care of these two little English girls to Tant' Sannie, a Boer woman. As Lyndall explained it to Em:
Tant' Sannie is a miserable old woman... Your father married her when he was dying, because he thought she would take better care of the farm, and us, than an Englishwoman. He said we should be taught and sent to school. Now she saves every farthing for herself, buys us not even one old book. She does not ill-use us. Why? Because she is afraid of your father's ghost.... three nights ago she heard a rustling and a grunting behind the pantry door, and knew it was your father coming to 'spook' her.
The third child was Waldo, son of the German overseer, Waldo was a tormented child, obsessed by the idea that everything must die, terrified of God and the hereafter.

In the summer of 1862, the year of the great drought, a stranger entered their world. Bonaparte Blenkins was an Irishman who quickly insinuated himself into their lives, soon overthrowing the established order of their world. By the time Blenkins had finished with the farm, the whole structure of the children's lives was destroyed. Older now, it was time for them to embark on the next stage of their lives.

Lyndall, determined to find wealth and fame, went off to finishing school, a place she later scathingly described. "They finish everything but imbecility and weakness, and that they cultivate." Em stayed on the farm, learning all the domestic duties entailed in its proper running, along with its actual management. Waldo wandered, simultaneously fleeing and seeking his God.

Lyndall's return to the farm three years later turned life upside down once more. Schreiner has taken a wilful child and turned her into a strong determined woman, albeit a tragic one. Her forward looking feminist views were considered radical by the Victorian reading public. At the same time, the book was an instant success, perhaps because it was published under the pseudonym Ralph Iron. Had Lyndall's views been acknowledged as written by a woman, it is likely they would have been rejected outright.

Schreiner introduced a new character in this second part of her book. Gregory Rose quickly became engaged to Em. Upon Lyndall's return however, Em realized he was smitten with Lyndall and broke the engagement. Lyndall did not share his feelings. She described him as
...a true woman - one born for the sphere that some women have to fill without being born for it. How happy he would be sewing frills into his little girls' frocks, and how pretty he would look sitting in a parlour, with a rough man making love to him!
Toward the end of the book, there will be a role reversal, as Lyndall will dominate Greg, now disguised as a woman, a person she does not recognize.

While many see Lyndall as the primary protagonist of the novel, this does Em a disservice. While she could be dismissed as a mere pretend housewife, lacking only a husband, she is far more than this. She is the foil to Lyndall and in many ways has more inner strength than her cousin, allowing the two girls to break out of the conventional stereotypes of their time.

The title of the book suggests not a story of children though, but the story of the farm itself. It is always there, changing with the seasons, but never changing in its essence. Schreiner's connections to such a world are obvious in the love Lyndall, Em and Waldo have for their home, the constant in their lives, and in their links to each other. Schreiner would go on to write other books, but she never recreated the success of this one, perhaps because she herself was uprooted from her veld.

Nov 24, 2016, 11:28am Top

>147 SassyLassy: Sounds interesting! - thanks for posting that: it's another book I've vaguely been meaning to read for years and never got around to. But I know where I can get my hands on a copy during the Christmas break...

Dec 2, 2016, 10:45am Top

>148 thorold: It was a book that I had been kicking around in my mind for awhile too, and then one magically appeared in my mail.

One of the interesting things not mentioned above, is that this was written before the first Anglo-Boer War, so that the relations between those two cultures were not particularly fraught with tension, more just antipathy. Although such a thing probably would not have occurred to the readers at the time of publication, any idea or discussion of the world in which the farm labourers lived is almost entirely absent, although Schreiner did advocate for them in later life.

Dec 2, 2016, 11:27am Top

It occurred to me that my nineteenth century reading was far too geographically constricted, so I decided to venture farther afield.

38. Memoirs of a Militia Sergeant by Manuel Antonio de Almeida translated from the Portuguese by Ronald W Sousa
- first published as Memórias de um sargento de milicias in serial form in Correio Mercantil from 1852-1853 under the pseudonym Um Brasiliero
- finished reading September 14, 2016

"It was back in the time of the king." Despite the array of possibilities for speculation this opening line promises, there was little in the way of delivery. Memoirs of a Militia Sergeant is not written as memoirs, but rather in narrative form. However, it doesn't read like a novel, rather it shares more in form and content with a picaresque tale such as The Swindler, which Almeida may well have read.

Basically, this is a series of episodic events which do move forward in time, but without an accompanying progression in plot. There is Leonardo-Pataca and his son Leonardo, abandoned by his parents at the age of seven and left in the care of the barber across the street, his godfather. Despite the barber's best efforts to educate young Leonardo, and despite his fondest wishes that Leonardo become a priest, the child's closest link to religion was in his reign as a holy terror. As he grew older, he became the scourge of the neighbourhood.

All this takes place in the city of Rio de Janeiro, in about 1815-1820. Naturally Leonardo's egregious behaviour fits him admirably for the militia, which was actually the Guarda Real de Policia. This body had the right to determine for itself on a fairly ad hoc basis what was criminal and what was not, and what punishment should be applied. Thugs of all kinds thrived in the organization. Almeida has at its head Major Vidigal, its real life head, notorious for his cruelty, vindictiveness and stealth.

Just as I had problems with The Swindler, so I had difficulty engaging with Memoirs of a Militia Sergeant. There is humour here, and Almeida is a keen satirist, but there was little continuity and the individual episodes became repetitive. This is considered by some to be the first Brazilian novel, and as such is interesting in a developmental way. It does give wonderful descriptions of everyday life among the workers and the marginalized, something writers like Jorge Amado, Graciliano Ramos and others have continued.

Almeida himself was a satirical writer, translator and a doctor. It is difficult to know where he would have taken his writing, as he drowned at the age of thirty, but there are suggestions he was considering a career in politics. I do wonder if I would have appreciated this book more reading it under different circumstances, so I will revisit it in the future.

Dec 3, 2016, 12:13am Top

Too bad about the memoirs and Brazil's literary adolescence. I have finally caught with your fascinating thread.

Dec 8, 2016, 11:21am Top

>151 dchaikin: I like that phrase literary adolescence. It's a good one.

Dec 8, 2016, 12:01pm Top

I was back on the East Coast again, so when I found this in a local bookstore, it seemed the right time and place to finally read it.

39. Gaff Topsails by Patrick Kavanagh
first published 1996
finished reading September 23, 2016

Even in Newfoundland, the Gaff Topsails is a remote area. It is a stretch of barrens on the north central edge of the island. Just below is the treacherous shoreline with the village in between the isolation of the highlands and that of the sea. A gaff topsail is also the topmost sail on a sailing vessel, the one to watch for when waiting ashore. Both these references underlie Gaff Topsails.

It was the last day of school in June 1948, the year before Newfoundland became part of Canada. The village had always celebrated it as Midsummer's Day. Most also celebrated it as St John's Day, the feast of St John the Baptist. The greatest significance of the day for the young girls though was as Sweetheart's Day, the day when through various signs and incantations each would learn the identity of her future intended.

Sixteen year old Mary was one of those girls. For Mary and her friends, the end of school meant a whole new life, which on this day they felt would be magical, nothing like the world they knew. Today was one suspended between present and future, where it seemed "the future is already in the present", but yet could not be seen. The boys had no such concerns. For most of them, it was the beginning of a life in the outdoors, full of dangers from the elements. Michael Barron and his friends had glimmers of this as they goofed around inside a cave in a dying iceberg.

Kavanagh's book takes the reader through that day. There is Mary's mother, constantly yammering to her infant son, the town drunk Johnny the Light, and the Irish priest Father MacMurrough. These could easily have been mere stock characters, but Kavanagh has a story for each, unwinding their tragedies as they go through their day. This being Newfoundland, the weather too is a character with a role, changing through the day from the promise of summer, to the squall of a belated Sheila's brush, and back again to almost summer, as the village gathers for the annual bonfire of offerings.

This is a first novel, which took some twenty years to write. Kavanagh gives a long history of how people came to be in that spot, which could almost make a novel in itself, although it does add to the sense of how precarious life is. There is a fierce sense of Newfoundland nationalism here, and the earlier history feeds into it. Kavanagh's desire to convey that way of life though, seen especially in his beautifully caught dialogue, may be just the thing to limit his readership to those who know the cadences and lexicon. That would be a shame.

Dec 8, 2016, 12:20pm Top

Since I didn't do the book justice above, here is some supplementary material:

Photo by Ljungman. A railroad used to run across here in the time of the novel. When the wind was right, they could hear the whistle down on the shore.

Gaff Topsail Service


And just a bit of the language from the woman:

Now myself, I got one long dayful of work before me. Very first thing is catch the blessings of this fine sun and turn a yaffle of fish on the flake: I hates to see a sun like this go to waste. And while the tide is down I'll pull some kelp and lay it out on the rocks to dry. Then I got to bake the bread for dinner for them rapscallions coming home at noon. And I'll start on knitting them cuffs: bad luck to launch them out on a Friday. And I'll haul some water and chop a backload of junks and wash the sheets and string them out on the line while we got the wind, and do the ironing. This is pot day and so I'll have to put on the fishfaces and brewis and duff and colcannon for their supper. And maybe haul a few stalks of rhubarb out of the marsh. As Nell says, one bloody drop of sweat pushing against another.

When it comes time for a spell from all that I'll pull a weed or two out of the farm. And if them capelin spraugs I'll spread a bucketfull on the drills. Carrots and cabbage and turnips and spuds - God but you know I gets tired of the same old chaw-and-glutch.

Dec 8, 2016, 9:08pm Top

"This is a first novel, which took some twenty years to write."

Seems he's due for another. This novel certainly sounds like a labor of love, and a nice find. Nice review and Newfoundland lesson.

Dec 10, 2016, 2:30am Top

>154 SassyLassy: And if them capelin spraugs I'll spread a bucketfull on the drills.

That sounds almost like a line from "Jabberwocky"! Almost disappointingly, it makes perfect sense after looking up capelin on Wikipedia...
Sounds like an interesting book, but probably one where you would have to do a lot of looking-up or guessing as you go along. Which can be fun too.

Dec 10, 2016, 10:34am Top

>156 thorold: Luckily my years living in the Atlantic Provinces meant I was able to read this book without having to look up, although others have challenged my vocabulary, and it also meant I could hear those accents in my mind while reading. I did once go and collect capelin with dozens if not hundreds of others, and it was crazy. Unfortunately they don't come in like they used to and their decline has been linked with the decline of the cod stocks.

Just looked up the wikipedia article and found this picture of a puffin with a capelin, supposedly with a capelin, which looks awfully large. The puffin is the provincial bird of Newfoundland.

And for all those "from away" who may read Newfoundland literature, may I recommend

This is a true scholarly work, not the kind of joke book they sell to tourists. It is well worth it not only for those interested in Newfoundland, but also for those interested in the western English and Irish languages from the mid 1600s on, or in the fishery. Why these? Newfoundland was incredibly isolated and those who settled the outports continued to speak the language of the original settlers with the same accents and pronunciations. That has been disappearing since about the 1970s, but it was enough to attract many linguists to study the language.

I was starting to get carried away here but then amazingly found the dictionary online, as well as this Wikipedia article about it all:



Dec 10, 2016, 12:11pm Top

>158 thorold: Fun! But that dictionary doesn't record the verb "spraug". As far as I can tell, Kavanagh's example is the only one on Google Books (otherwise it's a misprint for "sprang" or the abbreviation for a German employment statute). I expect it's linked to either "sprag" (a young cod) or maybe the obsolete English verb "sprain" to sow.

Edited: Dec 11, 2016, 3:42pm Top

>153 SassyLassy: This has been on my shelves for a while. One for the New Year's reading list by the sound of it. I hadn't realized it was the name of a place as well.

Dec 12, 2016, 9:36am Top

>158 thorold: You're right about "spraug" which I hadn't looked up until your comment. I didn't hear it in my mind with a German sounding "au", but rather as a sort of cross between sprog and sprawg. Apparently Eric Partridge that great word researcher, has "sprog" as a possible reversal of "frog spawn", cited as "obscure and debatable", but he also cites the obsolete "sprag" meaning 'a lively young fellow'. Both of these make an odd kind of sense if you mash them together and come up with capelin coming ashore to spawn. However, I hasten to add that the woman who said it in the book was somewhat addled, so perhaps she just made it up and I was addled enough to understand her!

>159 Oandthegang: I noticed that when I was looking to see who the few people that had a copy were.

Edited: Dec 12, 2016, 10:47am Top

>160 SassyLassy: I must get my own copy of Partridge some time - I keep forgetting about it until next time I need it...

The OED stylishly avoids the issue: In the "etymology" section of the entry on "sprog" it says "compare sprag n.2", whilst under sprag n.2 it says "origin obscure"!

In any case, sprag n.2 clearly applies to young cod or salmon as well as (and more recently than) young fellows. It wouldn't be all that surprising if the vowel had lengthened and the noun turned into a verb by the time it got to Newfoundland.

Dec 14, 2016, 10:28am Top

>161 thorold: Verbing weirds language. (Calvin and Hobbes)

Dec 14, 2016, 11:26am Top

September's Zola which ran into October, as there was so much to do outside in September:

40. L'Assommoir by Emile Zola translated from the French by Leonard Tancock
- first published in serial form in Le Bien Public starting in April 1876 and dropped after six installments for language and content, then picked up by La République des Lettres in weekly segments to January 1877
- finished reading October 5, 2016

In his Preface to L'Assommoir, Zola said it "...is without doubt the most moral of my books". While it can certainly be read as a stand alone, in the development of his Rougon-Macquart series, it was also a necessary one, linking many of Zola's characters from the earlier suggested reading order and setting them up for the great novels to come. Most of all though, this was an inspired book.

Pretty novels of manners and dresses have no appeal to me, nor do more contemporary novels of the middle class. It is books where the characters have an edge to them, where life isn't comfortable, where social ills are given a realistic human face that I remember and that make me think. This novel is certainly in that category.

Gervaise is the main character of this novel, of that class so insignificant that she is only ever referred to by a single name, never even granted a family name. She was a twenty-two year old laundress with two young sons, Claude and Etienne and a ne'er do well lover Lantier. Lantier left her almost immediately after the start of the novel, and she then married Coupeau the roofer. Coupeau was a decent enough young man, willing to provide for her children, but lacking ambition. Seven years went by. There was now a three year old daughter, Nana. Then Coupeau fell from a roof. Although Gervaise was able to open a laundry on her own with a loan from her neighbour Goujet, the fall was the beginning of the end. Gervaise was from the Macquart side of the family, so Zola's readers would know that she was doomed from the start. The outward manifestation of her tainted background was her limp, which her mother attributed to the beatings she had received when pregnant with Gervaise.

Zola had said of the people in L'Assommoir, "... my characters are not bad, but only ignorant and spoilt by the environment of grinding toil and poverty in which they live". Gervaise was not a bad person, on the contrary, she was quite well meaning. While Coupeau was recovering from his fall, she encouraged him to take off more time, to join his friends for a drink, even giving him money despite their precarious financial state. Slowly Coupeau slid into drunken states, into alcoholism, until he was no longer employable. Encouraged by him, Gervaise started drinking too, at first hoping to slow him down, later desperately and on her own.

In his Preface, Zola also said
I wanted to depict the downfall of a working-class family in the polluted atmosphere of our urban areas. The logical sequel to drunkenness and indolence is the loosening of family ties, the filth of promiscuity, the progressive loss of decent feelings and, as the climax, shame and death. It is morality in action, just that.

Leonard Tancock, who translated this edition, suggests that Zola felt it was this depiction which had the publishers of Le Bien Public drop the serialization, not out of any horror at the conditions of the working class, or at his language, but rather out of an ideology that saw the working class as downtrodden heroes, oppressed by the upper classes, depictions familiar to contemporary readers from Les Misérables, rather than as the everyday flawed people Zola portrayed.

As the reader follows Gervaise, Coupeau and the returned Lantier through to the end though, it is clear Zola has given us the picture he sought in images only he could create, in writing one of the best books of the nineteenth century.


In his Introduction, the translator Leonard Tancock writes of the difficulty of translating the word l'assommoir. He says it "means literally 'the place where you can get knocked out', hence its use as meaning a pub where you can get knock-out drops and forget all your troubles. He doesn't hold with earlier translations such as 'dram shop' which didn't quite strike him as being of the people.
My own translation would be 'howff', a place that would never have been dignified with the designation of 'pub', or even of 'tavern'.

Dec 14, 2016, 2:21pm Top

Spent ab enjoyable time catching up with your thread. Great reviews of the Zola novels and I particularly liked the link to The Atlantics article on Robert Louis Stevenson.

Also for me a history and geography lesson about Newfoundland

Dec 14, 2016, 3:25pm Top

>163 SassyLassy:

I'm not sure that I agree with that objection to "dram shop"---in the 19th century it applied entirely to the working- and criminal classes (assuming that's what he means by "of the people"!). Perhaps the concept has become a bit more gentrified since, but at the time of the novel's setting it would have been appropriate.

Though it is lacking the violent implication of "knock out".

Dec 15, 2016, 11:43am Top

>163 SassyLassy: I could barely put L'assomoir down, but at times I wanted to slap Gervaise and ask her what she thought she was doing!

Dec 15, 2016, 2:49pm Top

I don't know much of Zola. Thank you for your review of L'Assommoir, which seem to me a must read now, which may mean reading others too. It seems so relevant, if not in particulars, in themes and in level of current debates, or lack of.

Dec 15, 2016, 10:24pm Top

Enjoyed your latest Zola review. Was this one of the better ones?

Dec 16, 2016, 8:53am Top

>164 baswood: Good to see you back.

I am always cheered when I find people writing about Robert Louis Stevenson.

Maybe you will take on the Zola novels?!

>165 lyzard: Interesting and I would certainly agree with you on that in a context of UK writers of the time. With that in mind, you sent me back to exactly what Tancock did say when he was describing his difficulties with the translation of the title, objecting to "dram shop" among others, so here goes:
Such terms as 'The Dram Shop', 'Drink', 'Drunkard', which have been used in earlier translations, seem to me to be wanting in various ways --- to begin with they are not slang. 'The Boozer', which for a moment I thought of, is ambiguous, meaning a person as well as a place. 'The Knock-Out' suggests boxing. The many other slang words built upon such words as tight, canned, sloshed, sozzled, pissed, and so on, take one further and further away from the image Zola was trying to suggest. In taking the cowardly line of leaving it as L'Assommoir, I have at least kept the striking sound effect Zola achieved.

That capturing of slang was important to Tancock as he says of translating the work, especially in a different era
"...the original effect of shock and violence of language must in some measure be produced....
...one can only hope to reproduce the sort of language comparable people might use in pubs or off their guard. ... A good example of the difficulties involved is the title of the novel.

He then goes into his discussion of the literal translation.

Having quoted all this, I should add that the edition I used is a Penguin Classics published in 1970.

Tancock also has a dedication to his Introduction, something I don't remember seeing before: To JOHN HEMMINGS, greatest English 'Zolist' in friendship and admiration

>166 rebeccanyc: I had exactly the same reaction! Granted sometimes she was making the best decision of a bad lot of options, but still...
Perhaps she was terrified of how much more vulnerable she would have been without a male, however bad, to protect her, perhaps she was in such a state of exhaustion that inertia took over, but decision making was definitely not her forte, especially when offered options. I so much wanted her to take the lifeline offered her toward the end, but that would not have been realistic in the least.

>167 tonikat: and >168 dchaikin: Definitely one of the best ones to date. As I mentioned above, it could be read as a stand alone if you are looking for a first Zola. Perhaps rebecca could offer some suggestions for this too. As you say, Tony, the relevance is indeed still there.

Dec 19, 2016, 5:10pm Top

>167 tonikat: and >168 dchaikin: I always recommend Germinal for a first Zola, perhaps because it was my first and I was hooked.

Dec 30, 2016, 4:34pm Top

>170 rebeccanyc: That was the first one I read too, and immediately became hooked too, but it was pre internet ordering and finding more Zolas became very difficult. Not a problem now.

Dec 30, 2016, 4:44pm Top

>170 rebeccanyc: thanks rebecca.

>171 SassyLassy: Would you have other suggestions now? (Like I need more reading.)

Dec 30, 2016, 5:21pm Top

A year in the nineteenth century has to include Henry James.

41. The Europeans by Henry James
first published in 1879
finished reading October 7, 2016

Cousins are a strange thing to contemplate. They share a fair amount of DNA, so we expect a certain commonality with them, yet if we meet them first as adults they may be completely unlike the people our imagination produced. Whether good or bad, the differences can be unsettling.

The idea behind The Europeans, a novel Henry James subtitled "A Sketch", is just that. Into the prosperous world of the Wentworth family, just outside Boston, came two cousins, children of Mr Wentworth's deceased half sister. Felix and Eugenia were born in Europe and raised in various European countries. As Felix explained it to his sceptical American cousin Gertrude, who saw him as "a foreigner of some sort"
Of some sort -- yes; I suppose so. But who can say of what sort? I don't think we have ever had occasion to settle the question. You know there are people like that. About their country, their religion, their profession, they can't tell.

This ambiguity did not sit well with Gertrude, even less so when Felix was unable to give a direct answer to the question of where he lived:
I am afraid you will think we are little better than vagabonds. I have lived anywhere -- everywhere. I really think I have lived in every city in Europe.

The time was the 1830s, a time before the American Civil War, when a certain innocence and optimism still held sway in the United States. James depicted this in part with the Wentworth house, a large open airy dwelling, simply decorated, a place with Puritan overtones demanding forthrightness and earnestness. That doesn't mean plain and simple though. Wealth was evident in the quality of the building, its furnishings, and surroundings. The family itself dressed in the same quiet, finely detailed manner.

This sets up a contrast with the European cousins, whom Mr Wentworth, possibly afraid of having everyone in the same house, lodged in a small cottage on his property, a house the Europeans felt was "pitifully bare". Eugenia and her maid set about to correct this state. Eugenia
had brought with her to the New World a copious profusion of the element of costume; and the two Miss Wentworths, when they came over to see her, were somewhat bewildered by the obtrusive distribution of her wardrobe. There were India-shawls suspended, curtain-wise, in the parlour door, and the curious fabrics, corresponding to Gertrude's metaphysical vision of an opera-cloak, tumbled about in the sitting places. There were pink silk blinds in the windows, by which the room was strangely bedimmed; and along the chimneypiece was disposed a remarkable band of velvet, covered with coarse, dirty looking lace. "I have been making myself a little comfortable" said the Baroness, much to the confusion of Charlotte, who had been on the point of proposing to come and help her put her superfluous draperies away.

However, this being Henry James, there is no clearcut black and white. There must be ambiguity. The two Wentworth daughters epitomize this with their differing responses to Eugenia's foray into decorating:

But what Charlotte mistook for an almost culpably delayed subsidence Gertrude very presently perceived to be the most ingenious, the most interesting, the most romantic intention. "What is life, indeed, without curtains?" she secretly asked herself; and she appeared to herself to have been leading hitherto an existence singularly garish and totally devoid of festoons.

Closer examination has this dichotomy appearing throughout. Eugenia is depicted as looking somewhat "Oriental", in this context meaning middle eastern, and dresses in richly coloured complex costumes, all somewhat suspect to the Americans on the surface. However, although the American houses and interiors may appear stripped down, Eastern influences are to be found in furnishings and other objects from the China trade.

As the personalities of the cousins are developed, the ambiguities deepen. As Felix says to his cousin, he and Eugenia are not even really European, for their mother is American. Everyone will be changed in some way by the Europeans' visit, the old world will influence the new, and vice versa.

Although the book was well received, the family of Henry James seems to have had mixed feelings about it. Henry's more American brother William called it "thin and empty". James told his mother he had never thought of it as a good piece of writing. Most tellingly, it does not appear in his collected edition of his works, nor did he ever revise it. Despite all this, The Europeans has interesting ideas to contemplate, especially considering that the cross fertilization of cultures never really progressed in the United States to the degree it has in European countries.

Dec 30, 2016, 6:35pm Top

Hmm.. James' reservations notwithstanding sounds tempting. Sitting here in the UK there watching Scandinavian television I'm always wondering why they have no curtains. Indeed a review of the latest crime serial pondered the wilfulness of the characters in not drawing their curtains despite imminent threat from a prowling serial killer. So for the curtains if for no other reason I will have to read The Europeans. (The only other James I've read was The Turn Of The Screw which I didn't like, but that was many years ago.)

Dec 30, 2016, 10:21pm Top

William James was a tough critic on his brother. Another lovely review, S.

Dec 31, 2016, 11:20am Top

>174 Oandthegang: That line What is life, indeed, without curtains? completely cracked me up. I know curtains are one of those things that divide the world into two camps, like cat ownership or being a vegetarian. Living in a curtainless house and seeing the unease city visitors experience here at night has made me aware of the divide. I love the warmth curtains provide, but I love going to sleep looking at the stars and waking up to see the day.

The Europeans is actually a very short book for James, and is nothing like The Turn of the Screw. You would enjoy it.

>175 dchaikin: Thanks, D. I would like to know more about the relationship between the two brothers, something that came out in The Master, an excellent novel about James.

Dec 31, 2016, 12:49pm Top

>176 SassyLassy: (etc.) The assumption in Holland used to be that people who close their curtains must be up to no good behind them.

Sounds as though what James really objects to are not the curtains per se, but the old British dislike of unadorned hard surfaces - like those terrible bedrooms full of matching pelmets, carpets, bedding and wallpaper you still occsionally find in rural B&Bs, which make you feel as though you're trapped inside an armchair...

Jan 1, 2017, 5:09pm Top

>177 thorold: trapped inside an armchair... with the curtains tying you down. I know exactly what you mean.

I do always wonder what those people are doing behind their closed curtains, but alas, it is probably something as mundane as watching television.

Jan 1, 2017, 5:53pm Top

The Europeans is my last full length review for the year, although I did read more books. Next year I will have to keep my reading and reviewing in sync. It was a good reading year except for quantity up until the end of October and then for various reasons my reading time took a nose dive and even Zola was absent. Still, I did manage to finish more books after The Europeans. Among the more interesting are:

The Masterpiece by Emile Zola translated from the French by Thomas Walton (1950), translation revised 1993 by Roger Pearson
first published as Oeuvre in 1886

The story of Claude Lantier, son of Gervaise from L'Assommoir in >163 SassyLassy: above. Lantier here is an artist. Many say he is modelled on Cézanne, but I would think Monet too, not to mention Zola himself. A story tracing the sad trajectory from youthful optimism to resignation and despair of the deepest sort, but one told brilliantly with the eye of a painter of words. I learned a lot about nineteenth century French art along the way. Some of it should have been obvious to me before, but there is nothing like having it develop in the story before your eyes.
As usual, Oxford Classics has done a truly comprehensive job on this book.

The Golovlyov Family by Shchedrin translated from the Russian by Natalie Duddington
first published as Gospoda Golovlevy in 1876

This was the most dismal of books, full of drunks, despair and suicides. It also had some of the most unpleasant characters in Russian literature populating it. Why keep reading? It may have been one of those trances where you just have to know what happens next, even though you know it will be awful. Still and all, it does much to dispel the fairytale idea of life on a Russian estate in the nineteenth century, which was interesting, because it is not possible that it was all furs and dances.

The Seige by Ismail Kadare (touchstone is incorrect) translated from Albanian into French by Jusuf Vrioni, Vrioni's translation translated in English by David Bellos
first published as Keshtjella in 1970

I've tried to read a book by Kadare each year since discovering him in Club Read. This novel was a protest against Soviet incursion into the former Czechoslovakia, disguised as a seige of an Albanian fortress by Turks in the fifteenth century. As usual with Kadare's work, an amazing cast of characters depicted beautifully, but anyone writing press releases or official histories might be advised to take note.

The Tenant of Wildfell Hall by Anne Bronte
first published in 1848 under the pseudonym Acton Bell

This was a reread of a book I had not read since my early teens. While some of it was familiar, there was so much I could not possibly have picked up on back then. More drinking (my reading this year has unwittingly highlighted this as a major social problem across the nineteenth century) combined with spousal abuse surprised me not as phenomena in themselves, but as problems being brought out into the open so publicly and so early. There was also the usual portrayal of mothers trying to put their daughters into completely unsuitable marriages, while their daughters wanted entirely different kinds of unsuitable marriages.

Jan 1, 2017, 7:40pm Top

That's quite a list of books for a nose dive. Loved your blurbs, which are excellent. And such a great last sentence about the Bronte.

Edited: Jan 2, 2017, 2:19am Top

>179 SassyLassy: There was also the usual portrayal of mothers trying to put their daughters into completely unsuitable marriages, while their daughters wanted entirely different kinds of unsuitable marriages.

I agree with >180 dchaikin: -- fabulous line. Could apply to many books written before the mid-20th century.

Group: Club Read 2016

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